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Review: On Theater: A loud, lethal ‘Lizzie’ at Chance Theater

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Nicole Gentile, Monika Peña, and Jisel Soleil Ayon rock out in the regional premiere of “Lizzie, The Musical” at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
(Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio)

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks,” or so the saying goes, adding that “When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Never mind that the real Borden was acquitted in 1893 for the murders due to lack of evidence. She’s guilty as hell, according to the rock musical “Lizzie,” now on stage at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.

We never meet Lizzie’s abusive father and cruel stepmother in the staged version, which consists of a cast of four women — Lizzie, her sister, the family maid and a (very) close friend. Lizzie offs the parents in silhouette, using a microphone stand as her weapon.

The Chance’s production, vigorously directed by Jocelyn A. Brown, is an unrelenting assault on the senses, backed by a persistent five-piece band directed by keyboardist Robyn Manion.

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The music lustily supports the show, but often reverberates at such a high volume for a small venue that it overcomes the actresses and vocal clarity is lost. Adding to the discomfort are the lighting designs, in which harsh, glowing bulbs are directed toward the audience. (My companion bailed, covering her ears, at intermission).

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Monika Peña as Lizzie Borden and Jisel Soleil Ayon as Alice Russell in the regional premiere of “Lizzie, The Musical” at the Chance Theater in Anaheim.
(Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio)

That said, all four women are exceptionally strong, both dramatically and vocally, particularly Monika Peña in the title role of a young woman driven to murder by her father’s sexual abuse and her stepmother’s rebuke. Peña imbues her strident character with grim determination, waving her long hair for emphasis during her musical numbers.

Alli Rose Schynert is a force of both support and opposition as Lizzie’s sister Emma. She hits her emotional stride in the post-murder song “WTF Now, Lizzie?” (the acronym is fully spelled out in the performance).

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Also memorable is Jisel Soleil Ayon as the sensuous neighbor Alice, Lizzie’s love interest. She and Peña beautifully display their feelings in the haunting duet “Will You Stay​?”

The family maid, named Bridget but called Maggie by the sisters, is far more than a utility character in this version. Nicole Gentile rants and rages with both disgust and delight in another bravura performance.

Choreography, a major factor, has been dizzyingly accomplished by Hazel Clarke, while Rachael Lorenzetti’s period-style, fringed costumes also play a vital role. The multi-level setting by Kristin Campbell works effectively for the Chance’s dimensions.

“Lizzie,” with its strong, all-female cast making a case for justifiable homicide, is a dynamic production that could have been rendered even more so by tamping down the volume at Anaheim’s Chance Theater.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “Lizzie, the Musical”

Where: Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim

When: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through March 3

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Cost: $31 to $45

Information: (714) 455-4212 or ChanceTheater.com


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