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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A/C Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Grease

Heather Fallon, Lauren McKay, and Megan Moylan
Photo by Redline Designs
"Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, gave her father forty one." Thanks to that nursery rhyme, the tale of double murderess Lizzie Borden and her infamous ax is incredibly well known. But there is much more to Lizzie's story and creators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt have crafted a rock opera, appropriately titled Lizzie, that masterfully gets us inside of Lizzie's head and lays out the motives for the murders. A/C Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of this musical with a sensational cast of four women, spirited direction and a smoking band. It is a rip-roaring good time.

While the show uses modern rock music, the setting and most of the language used in the lyrics and the minimal amount of dialogue is firmly set in 1892. The juxtaposition is, however, never an issue with the score a perfect blend of driving rock numbers, character driven duets and stirring ballads. The plot follows Lizzie's plight and the aftermath of the murders in a simple, linear fashion and Cheslik-deMeyer, Maner, and Hewitt intertwine the facts, rumors and speculation of Borden's plight to present a fascinating and thought provoking study.

The cast of four is exceptional with each woman inhabiting their role with a deep conviction and their singing vocals soar and throb with a blistering rage to the driving beat of the music. Megan Moylan is stunning as Lizzie. She presents Lizzie as possessed and distraught with an angry rage to her songs, especially an evocative "This Is Not Love." Moylan makes Lizzie sympathetic which helps us identify with her dilemma. As her sister, Emma, Lauren McKay is fierce, strong and manipulative with a voice that growls. Her delivery of "Sweet Little Sister" is appropriately feisty.

Cassie Chilton is superb as Lizzie's next door neighbor, and alleged lover, Alice. Her lilting voice delivers a moving "If You Knew" and her perfect facial expressions show us her true feelings for Lizzie, feelings that are questioned once the murders happen. As the Borden's housemaid Bridget, Heather Fallon's double takes, questioning looks, spot-on comic delivery and lush vocals make this supporting character into a crowd pleaser.

Tim Shawver and Kim Richard's direction keeps the show moving in a fast pace yet allows the more traditional musical theatre songs and sweet moments in the story to not be steamrolled over by the heavy metal numbers. They also effectively use Greg Hynes' elevated set to keep the action centered yet present the scenes in varying ways which keeps the show interesting. My only complaint — for such a small space, the on-going use of stage hands to do such things as move a chair, hand the women a mic and move mic stands around, several times during a song, is a little distracting.

Hynes' set design presents almost everything at an angle, with two side stages, the railings, and the two door frames all skewed. I'm not sure if it was Hynes' intent but it plays into and echoes the slanted and twisted facts and rumors behind Lizzie's tale. Alan Ruch's music direction achieves a stunning wall of sound from the six piece band and the rich harmonies of the cast. Richard Mickey Courtney's costumes and Terre Steed's hair and make-up designs use a combination of the excellent period costumes and hair we first see the women in to ground us in the 1890s, but use modern elements, plus a couple of the girls natural facial piercings, to bring us up to modern times. Daniel Black's lighting and Casey Weiler's sound design achieve the full on rock concert experience the show requires without overpowering the limitations of the small Hardes Theatre setting.

A heavy rock opera like Lizzie may not appeal to those traditional musical theatre fans who love Oklahoma! yet scoff at a modern rock musical like Rent. With A/C's stellar cast and impressive creative elements, I highly urge everyone, even the skeptics, to give it a go.

A/C Theatre Company's production of Lizzie runs through August 27th, 2016, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at

Music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt
Lyrics by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner
Book by Tim Maner
Additional Music by Tim Maner
Additional Lyrics by Alan Stevens Hewitt
Based on an Original Concept by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner
Orchestrations by Alan Stevens Hewitt
Directed by Tim Shawver and Kim Richard
Music Director: Alan Ruch
Costume Designers: Richard Mickey Courtney
Stage Manager: Kristen Burkhart
Hair & Make-up: Terre Steed
Set Designer: Greg Hynes
Lighting Designer: Daniel Black
Projections Designer: Drew Leatham
Sound Designer: Casey Weiler

Lizzie Borden: Megan Moylan
Emma Borden: Lauren Mckay
Bridget Sullivan/Maggie: Heather Fallon
Alice Russell: Cassie Chilton

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