The rock operetta “Lizzie” takes a look at the notorious ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in 1892, ones popularly blamed on their daughter Lizzie, from the vantage of four women with connections to the Borden household at the time: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the Bordens’ maid Bridget Sullivan and neighbor Alice Russell.
Though a jury found Lizzie not guilty of the killings, creators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt imagine a house pressurized by repressed rage, parental resentment, jealousy and perhaps forbidden love that well could have driven Lizzie to, well, hacktivism. Take the subject matter, add a live rock band and crank it to 11 and you see why the Waco Civic Theatre is making it a late-night offering.
And, in an odd way, “Lizzie” may be a sort of post-pandemic theatrical release for many: scream therapy for those frustrated by months of semi-confinement, bottled-up emotions and distanced relationships.
Director Lauren Weber, in fact, found the production cathartic after a year that largely sidelined traditional musical theater. “The whole cast was vaccinated, so we could rehease together and work onstage,” she said. “Oh, how I missed this.”
“Lizzie” is much in the same vein as earlier productions of the musicals “Heathers” and “Spring Awakening” that local ad hoc theater company Theatre Uncovered staged as offseason productions at the community theater: edgy, high-energy work whose language, subject matter and tone put it outside the usual WCT fare.
Baylor Theatre students populated those Theatre Uncovered productions and “Lizzie” does the same. The musical’s four women — Delaney Wenger as Lizzie, Peyton Wood as Emma, Brooke Matthews as Bridget and Meredith Marcum as Alice — come from Baylor and all performed in various BU shows in its recent COVID-altered season. Matthews also starred in the civic theater’s recent “The Last Five Years.” Weber has a Baylor connection, too, as a musical theater lecturer in the theater department in addition to directing such WCT productions as “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” “Wonderettes” and “The Wizard of Oz,” while performing in “Always ... Patsy Cline.”
Backing the four women and their tight vocal harmonies is a six-piece rock band led by Eduardo Velez. The theater’s conversion to in-the-round productions, allowing more socially distanced seating for audiences, will add a restless sense to “Lizzie,” with actors prowling in and out of the space’s four corners. A cameraman also will shadow the stage for live close-ups projected on the theater’s video screens.
It’s staging inspired by rock concerts as much as a stage show, said an admittedly excited Weber. “I’m obsessed with this show,” she laughed.
“Lizzie” will be presented onstage with no livestreaming. Masking is encouraged, but not required, with tickets sold online at wacocivictheatre.com.