Sitting in the audience at the thoroughly impeccable Chicago premiere of Lizzie, it is easy to forget that this production is also the Chicago premiere of the newly christened Firebrand Theatre. Defining themselves as the nation’s first female-centric, Equity musical theater company, their work arrives with perfect timing at the Den Theatre like a ferociously feminist bat out of hell.
Based on the real-life story of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of murdering her stepmother and father with an axe, this musical, written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner could easily devolve into camp, its powerful rock ballads notwithstanding. That said, director Victoria Bussert’s production is carefully calibrated between a searing story of strength and no-holds-barred, rock-and-roll entertainment. The result is a delicious production with abundant evidence of the tremendous care and thought that went into its staging.
As one may expect, this production is quite an arrival. And that’s before even scratching the surface of the four powerfully nuanced and incredibly compelling actors at the heart of Lizzie. In the eponymous role of Lizzie, Liz Chidester works the audience into a frenzy, performing such songs as “This is Not Love” and “Gotta Get Out of Here” with electrifying intensity.
Equally engrossing is the work of the remaining three cast members: Camille Robinson as Emma, Jacquelyne Jones as Alice, and Leah Davis as Bridget. In addition to nailing vocal harmonies and ear-defying runs, these four actors also manage to squeeze out just as much humor as blood across the production’s fast-paced two acts.
Tied together with impressive music direction from Andra Velis-Simon and a powerful, all-female, on-stage band, Lizzie is as much an incredibly satisfying musical theater experience as it is a raw beacon of catharsis amidst a news cycle where stories of men abusing women have become numbing in their procession.
Lizzie runs through Sunday, December 17, at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Lizzie will also feature special late night performances (featuring understudies) at 11pm on December 1, 2, 8 and 9. Tickets are $45, with student tickets available for $20. Late night performances are pay-what-you-can. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at firebrandtheatre.org.