“Lizzie” Slashes Its Way Across The New Line Stage With Powerful Performances

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Marcy Wiegert as Emma and Anna Skidis Vargas as Lizzie in the New Line production of “Lizzie.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Lizzie Borden has been a legend since childhood for many of us. The opening and closing of New Line’s latest off the wall musical, “Lizzie,” features that macabre nursery rhyme-like chant, “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks…”- also made famous in the bizarre folk music icon which states “You can’t chop your mother up in Massachusetts.” Now, four wonderful performances by four stunning ladies brings that story to life.

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Anna Skidis Vargas holds the axe as the title character in “Lizzie” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

It’s no doubt that Lizzie was the O.J. Simpson of her time (1892) because, despite overwhelming evidence, she was acquitted. The writing team of Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner focus on Lizzie being guilty and acting as she did because of sexual and mental abuse from her father and stepmother. Along with her sister Emma, they had been cut out the will and the pressure finally got to Lizzie and, by an axe, hatchet or some other implement, carried out her dastardly deed.

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Larissa White as Alice and Anna Skidis Vargas as Lizzie in the New Line production of “Lizzie.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Anna Skidis Vargas leads the way as a robust and manic Lizzie. Starting with the bizarre and haunting song, “This Is Not Love,” she sets the tone for the evening and then follows up with a resounding duet with next door neighbor, Alice, furthering the conflict with “Gotta Get Out Of Here.” There’s very little dialogue as the music drives this show with a marvelous rock beat.

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Marcy Wiegert rocks out as Emma Borden in “Lizzie” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

As Alice, another New Line favorite, Larissa White, brings a touch of innocence into this over the top story line. Although some folks in 1892 thought Lizzie might have been involved in a Lesbian relationship with the maid, Bridget, this version ties that in with Alice. Despite her love for Lizzie, she rats on her because she feels Lizzie has done something awful. In a cast filled with New Line powerful women, Kimi Short comes up as a doozy of a maid, Bridget Sullivan. As loony as the Borden sisters, she feels she had been slighted by the family- they still call her by the name of their previous maid.

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Anna Skidis Vargas and Marcy Wiegert as the Borden sisters in New Line’s production of “Lizzie.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Rounding out the cast is a stellar performance by Marcy Wiegert as Lizzie’s sister, Emma. With ramrod confidence and that fabulous shock of green hair, she simply kills the music with a Janis Joplin flair. Her second act duet with Lizzie (mainly her performance, though) of “WTF Now, Lizzie” (I cleaned that up a bit), is one of the brightest performances in musical moments on stage in our town.

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Larissa White rocks a ballad in “Lizzie” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Director Mike Dowdy-Windsor focuses solely on the tenacity of these women and the pulsing rock themes of the musical. They move about stage in half theatrical  performance/half concert mode. It’s killer direction with strong choreography aspects throughout. The rambling set design of Rob Lippert is right on the mark and his lighting design captures the essence of both the story line and the anachronistic feel of the production. Sarah Porter’s costumes also hold that out of date feel but perfectly exquisite in this setting.

The New Line band never sounded better with some unusual choices that gives the proper feel to the piece. Sarah Nelson leads the way and, with the band stretched around the backstage area and in plain sight more than ever, a few distractions ensue. The percussionist, Clancy Newell seemed to be the busiest man in town with everything from drums to cymbals to guiro and a lot more. And the cello is a distinct choice that really enriches the chaotic score. However, Miss Emily Trista Lane is a bit of a distraction with her 21st Century beauty in sharp contrast to the 19th Century fury and outlandish characters on stage just a step away from her.

Once again Scott Miller has brought a show I’ve been listening to for a while onto the stage. Perhaps I should give him a short (or long) list of shows I’d like to see in the future that I’ve enjoyed on CD over the years. Shows that no one else in town is ever likely to produce.

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Anna Skidis Vargas as Lizzie, Kimi Short as Bridget and Marcy Wiegert as Emma in New Line’s “Lizzie.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

“Lizzie” is more than a musical, it’s an event of epic proportions. These four women simply hew their way through a rock-perfect score and strike fear, terror and a bit of humor through the audience. This one is a no-brainer- you must see it and savor it. “Lizzie” plays at New Line at the Marcelle Theater through October 21st. Contact them at 314-534-1111 or at newlinetheatre.com for tickets or more information.

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