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Theater review: Mayhem, madness and murder in Renegade's 'Lizzie'

"Lizzie," Renegade Theater Company's take on the punk musical based on Lizzie Borden opened July 26 at Teatro Zuccone. Photo by Joe Olivieri

Mix together four raging and rebellious women and a blistering five-piece rock band. Add 40 whacks of an axe for good measure and you are in for a bloody good time at Renegade Theater Company's "Lizzie: A Rock Musical."

The raucous opening night crowd, ready for some amped up guitar riffs and screaming solos, got what they paid for.

As the opening song relates "Let us take you to a time back in 1892 when all hell broke loose in the House of Borden." That hot Victorian summer, passions were boiling over in the Borden household with "a lock on every door/In every room a prisoner of a long and silent war."

Blending shades of "Sweeney Todd" and "American Horror Story," the musical tells the tale of alleged axe-wielding wacko, Lizzie Borden, bludgeoning her father and her step-mother to death in quiet Fall River, Mass..

With its scintillating details, Lizzie's case was the O.J. Simpson trial of its time. Lizzie may have been molested by her father, and she and her older sister Emma were afraid that their father had plans to leave his fortune to their step-mother. Details, more from the playwright's pen than historical fact, add a love affair between Lizzie and her next door neighbor Alice Russell to heat up the show even more.

Renegade's production features four fierce and powerhouse performances from Daylen Moore (Lizzie A. Borden), Anna Matthes (Emma L. Borden), Feyintoluwa Ekisola (Alice Russell), and Sara Marie Sorenson (Bridget Sullivan).

Moore gets stronger and stronger as the show goes on, taking her songs from a hard rock razor's edge to a beautiful ballad sweetness. She also gives Lizzie a wild-eyed craziness that intimidates all the way to the back of the house.

Providing some of the evening's "comic" relief, Matthes also shines with some lilting ballads and beautiful harmonies. Ekisola has the least flashy role of the four, hitting her stride more in the ballads than with the rock numbers.

Sorenson made the most of her character's dry, sarcastic commentary as the see-all maid. She demonstrated her considerable abilities to stretch her rock vocal muscles as well as performing some fabulous harmonies in songs like "Shattercane & Velvetgrass."

The show is an all-out auditory assault that matches the intensity of the bloody tale. Music director and keyboard player Beth Brophy has her musicians (Marc Hill, Byron Klimek, Cory Clay, and Amber Haglund Pagel) firing on all cylinders from start to finish, providing strong musical backup for the cast without overwhelming them.

The evening started with the new Renegade Theater Artistic Director, Mary Fox, announcing the upcoming season, proudly proclaiming that all of the shows this year are slated to have female directors and race and gender neutral casting.

Fox, also the director of "Lizzie," is poised to set the tone for a new chapter at Renegade Theater Company, while staking out her own bold vision with this fiery Victorian corset-buster.

If You Go

What: Renegade Theater's "Lizzie: A Rock Musical"

When: July 26-28 and August 2-4 & 9-11at 7:30 p.m. August 5 matinee at 2 pm

Where: Zeitgeist Teatro at 222 E. Superior Street

Tickets: 218-336-1417 and at www.zeitgeistarts.com

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