A new kind of musical is haunting Memphis for the spooky season. Lizzie – The Lizzie Borden Rock Musical is at Theatreworks through October 28th, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The musical tells the infamous story of a woman suspected of murdering her father and stepmother through original rock songs. Additionally, the local production by New Moon Theatre Company was staged by an almost entirely female creative team.
Choreographer Brittany Church is one of the women on this team.
“Working with an all-female team has been a dream, particularly in our current climate,” she said. “Female relationships can be such a salve, and especially when the national landscape is one of hostility toward and neglect for women, finding love, support, and compassion within a group of women is vital.” — Brittany Church
Church worked alongside a female director, music director, stage manager and actresses to bring this story to life. While the original story of Lizzie Borden is fairly well known, this play takes it to new heights by adding music and a little bit of a backstory for the four women in the show. These four women include the main character Lizzie Borden (Christina Hernandez) and the three women at the trial – Bridget (Annie Freres), Alice (Joy Brooke Fairfield) and Emma (Jaclyn Suffel).
The show uses most of the original dialogue from the trial testimony. However, Church says that some backstories of the characters were embellished to help tell the story.
“There are a few key elements of relationships that the musical portrays that we have no reports of, which makes sense because prior to the murders, this was just another regular family living their regular life, under the radar of any scrutiny or even outside knowledge of what they were really like,” Church said about the creative elements of the show. “There is so much of the lives of these four women that we don’t know from historical accounts, so the script had to fill some of that in.”
Of course, the most unique part of this show is the music. The show began in 1990 as “a four-song experimental theater / rock show” created by Tim Maner and Steven Cheslik. The show became more fleshed out during it’s time on the Lower East Side and eventually became a production available to be produced nationally. All of the music is in a gothic rock style which seems fitting for a story about an accused axe murderer.
For this local production, Church was chosen to choreograph. She grew up taking classes at Ballet Memphis and attended University of Oklahoma on a Scholarship for Ballet Performance. She took a small break for her health, but found herself at a tap audition with a friend. From there, her love of dance flourished and she continued performing as well as choreographing shows in the Memphis area.
This show, however, is not your typical musical and therefore needed a unique vision. Because she is only working with four people and because of the dark subject matter, Church decided to take an unconventional approach.
“It would be easier to choreograph this show with a huge ensemble doing elaborate, uncontrolled, asylum escapee kind of movement in the background, but to create that kind of energy with only four women, all of whom are belting their faces off while doing whatever movement I give them is tricky,” she said.
“We balanced that a bit by having the cast go in and out of being themselves as their characters in some scenes, and in others, being these ghost-like figments who are there solely to help tell the story through movement. They alternate between being leading characters and being part of a tiny ensemble, which really works so well, partially because of the all for one, one for all attitude that each of these cast members have.”
Church’s favorite part of the show is watching the transformation of Lizzie from victim to survivor.
“There are an endless supply of headlines reminding us of how scary it is to be a woman in this world – statics show that 1 in 5 women are victims of rape and 1 in 3 experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.” she said. “So to watch a woman living in the depths of that and literally taking an axe to her hell is pretty cathartic”