Lizzie at Ghost Light Theater: A True Rock Musical
Lizzie Tells the Story Behind the Famous Murders
Ghost Light Theater’s production of Lizzie at Gateway City Arts was a true rock musical, with four kick-ass women singing in front of a tight six-piece rock ensemble that included keyboards and a cello. Music Director Sarah Puckett’s crew kept the rock n roll cranking while the singers belted out the tunes that go with this sordid tale of bloody murder in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892.
While most people know the story, Lizzie got acquitted ten months after the crime; in this play, we delve into the reasons why young Lizzie would do such a terrible thing to her beloved father and stepmother, Abby Gray. Just look at the song titles, starting with the first act’s solo by Lizzie (Shealyn Berube), ‘This is Not Love.’ We move on to ‘Gotta Get Outta Here’ and then, ‘If You Knew,’ and you get the picture. Something was seriously wrong in the Borden household.
We learn about the things that Andrew Borden did after he remarried the younger Abby, to spurn his daughter like killing the pigeons she kept up on the roof. We learn that he also intended to change his will to benefit the new wife against the wishes of his daughters. Something wasn’t good in that household, not good at all.
The singer who stood out the most to me was a familiar actor, Tina Sparkle, who played Alice, whom I saw in the recent production of The Buddy Holly Story at the Majestic Theater, where her great singing voice was also put to good use in her role as Maria Elena Santiago. Alice had many solos and she managed to get the volume and heft to the songs without shouting at the audience, who sat very close to the performers. Sparkle’s rendition of ‘Maybe Someday,’ was beautiful.
There were a few moments when Lizzie’s singing was too intense and loud. Still, Berube sang with true passion, and the lyrics of some of the songs were haunting, justifying the rage that came out as loud and aggressive singing during some numbers.
In the second act, after a too-long intermission (15 minutes is plenty, this was 30 mins at least), the band came back but four women abandoned their 1892 garb and switched to modern day punk outfits and black lipstick.
The character of Lizzie’s sister, Emma, (Kerrie Maguire) and the maid Bridget Sullivan (Cici Cadeaux) were well developed as they portrayed a disfunctional family and often their singing would take the form of scat singing along with the rocking band, and the choreography when they would all march around in circles with hands touching was clever and fun. Emma gets especially intense when she sings ‘What the F–k Now, Lizzie?”
Though the program contained warnings about triggers, I’d say this show was mild. The way they did the depiction of ‘The Deed” was also very clever. A white scrim hid Lizzie as she thrashed dad and stepmom, blood soaking the scrim and later, on Lizzie’s face. Gruesome but not anything triggering, we all know this play is about murders!
The show has been produced worldwide more than 100 times and was written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, it debuted in 2010. The Gateway Arts venue is one that we can all be thankful for, because owners Lori and Vitek almost threw in the towel when they closed up for a few months after the pandemic. Thankfully, the arts organizations using the space have been creative and once again, interesting, edgy and experimental theater can once again be enjoyed in Holyoke for a while anyway.
Lizzie, Ghost Light Theater, The Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts Holyoke, $20, performances Nov 9, 10, 11, 2023. Tickets