Christiane Noll, known for playing good girls in such musicals as Jekyll & Hyde and Little by Little, is helping make the Christopher McGovern-Amy Powers musical, Lizzie Borden, a bloody hit in its run through Nov. 25 at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.
There are only scattered seats available for the dark thriller, which director Bill Castellino regards as "a musical whodunnit" told as an emotional journey for would-be murderess Lizzie Borden, rather than a linear tale. The first performance at the Terris, devoted to new works and not open to the critics, was Nov. 1. Two days later, reports Goodspeed director of Goodspeed's marketing and public relations, Jennifer Wislocki, the show was virtually sold out and been the fastest-selling, biggest hit since Summer of '42 in 2000.
"The popularity of this musical is based on the fact that people are fascinated with unsolved mysteries, especially murder," said Sue Frost, associate producer of Goodspeed Musicals. "People are leaving the theatre and telling their friends they have to go see it."
The musical retells the story of the real-life, infamous hatchet murders of Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby, in 1892 Massachusetts, tracing the lives of the spinster daughter accused of the crime, and the townspeople who put her on trial. Castellino, who also directed and choreographed the show's world premiere by American Stage Company in Teaneck, NJ, in 1998, said the score has remained intact with a few exceptions but the changes in the book (co-written by lyricist Powers and composer McGovern) have been extensive, and refinements continue in the ongoing rehearsals during the run.
"A lot has changed, the piece has grown and we have taken advantage of the opportunity Chester gives you," Castellino told Playbill On-Line. "The score has remained, although some lyrics have changed. The storytelling has remained the same. It's an emotional timeline not a chronological one. It's much more of thriller than it was before." A thriller, as in blood and guts and gore?
"I call it a thriller because of the feeling of intensity there," Castellino said. "It's not a slasher. The tension you feel in Phantom or Jekyll & Hyde is that you wonder how the story is going to unfold. There is a tension in that it's very theatrical and exciting and there's a very big moral in this story. The moral is that it takes a village and that when there are crimes of this nature, often times it is society's failure not just one person's."
Did Lizzie Borden do it? After a pause, Castellino said, "She was acquitted." To get the production's point of view, you have to see the show, he said.
Getting producers to "see the show" is Castellino's goal. New York is the ultimate destination, but the director and creative team would welcome a first-rate regional opportunity to further refine what audiences have been eating up since 1998.
Alison Fraser played Lizzie in New Jersey and is heard on the cast album on the Original Cast Records label.
The Goodspeed cast includes Eleanor Glockner (Abby), Timothy Jerome (Andrew), Mackenzie Mauzy (the Girl), and Tina Stafford (as sister Emma). The cast of 14 includes Bridget Beirne, Danica Connors, Brenda Cummings, Andy Gale, Mischa Kischkum, Darren Matthias, Tally Sessions, Melinda Tanner and Gwendolyn Walker.
William J. Thomas is musical director, with orchestrations by McGovern. Designers are Michael Anania (set), Dale DiBernardo (costumes), Paul Miller (lighting). Goodspeed Musicals' executive producer is Michael P. Price.
McGovern also wrote The Ugly Duck for Theatreworks/USA, and is the resident composer/lyricist for Stages of Imagination in Philadelphia. He has also music directed throughout the country. Powers penned additional lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard.
The Norma Terris Theatre is the space where Goodspeed Musicals presents new, newly-revised and developing work. The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, is the company's mainstage, which also houses new works, but focuses mainly on revivals.
Lizzie Borden tickets are $32. For information, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.
The sensational Lizzie Borden case in Fall River, MA, has previously inspired the Jack Beeson opera, Lizzie Borden and Agnes DeMille's ballet, Fall River Legend. There is also another Lizzie Borden musical with an all-female casting concept, Frozen River, by composer-lyricist Danny Musha and librettist-lyricist Stephen Wallem. That show has had developmental readings in New York and Chicago.
— By Kenneth Jones