An interview with the writers of Fest 2011 show Lizzie (formerly known as Lizzie Borden), Steven Cheslik-deMeyer (SCD), Alan Stevens Hewitt (ASH) and Tim Maner (TM) about the upcoming concert, three productions around the world and a studio cast album!
In 1892 on a sweltering August day in a small New England town, “somebody” brutally murdered a well-to-do elderly man and his second wife with an axe. Lizzie Borden, their youngest daughter, was the primary suspect, arrested and tried. Without any witnesses to the hideous crime, she was acquitted, and the murders remain unsolved to this day. Though Lizzie was ultimately declared innocent according to the law, her infamy lives on.
Lizzie has had quite a bit of development since it left the Festival. Other than the new name, what has changed with the show since it was at the Festival?
ASH: If you think of the show as a gatefold vinyl double album (a la Tommy, or Jesus Christ Superstar), pretty much the entire Side 1 has been rewritten, with the addition of two solos for Lizzie and one for Alice to allow the audience to understand where they are starting from and to get onboard with them. Also, one of the central musical/lyrical themes (which is reprised, transformed, at the end) is now introduced in a completely different way from how it had been previously. Whereas it had been an internal dialogue for Alice, it is now a lullabye (“Maybe Someday”) sung by Alice to Lizzie. It brings the harrowing “Side 1” to a gentle close.
SCD: We wanted to strengthen the introduction of Lizzie’s friend Alice who becomes so pivotal in the story, so we wrote a solo for her early in the first act. We also rewrote Lizzie’s song “Gotta Get Out Of Here” to be more explicit and hard-hitting. Those are the big changes, but we also made lots of little tweaks here and there.
You had the opportunity to have the show developed at Baldwin Wallace University and at the Village Theatre. What did you learn about the show as it changed theatres, actresses and regions?
SCD: The BWU production was the first time the show was produced where we weren’t closely involved. It was great to find out that we really can hand it to a group of talented folks and feel confident that our idea of what the show is remains intact. It helps that the BW students directed by Vicky Bussert are phenomenally talented! We made discoveries about the first act and the Alice character that led to the changes mentioned above. Village gave us the opportunity for a trial run of lots of new elements: Alice’s new song and the new orchestrations, a more rock and roll-style set and lighting. The folks at Village gave us great support in the process.
TM: We’ve learned new things every time, from new design teams, from different levels of production, from the unique variations all of the amazing women who have taken on the roles have shown us. We’ve gotten to really look at the show from different perspectives that have strengthened it at every turn.
What has surprised you about people’s response to the show outside of New York City?
ASH: I don’t know if there have really been any “surprises” for me about how Lizzie has been received. It certainly has been thrilling though, and immensely gratifying to experience it connecting so strongly with people.
The show played last month at TUTS in Houston, having a concert version in Philly this fall with 11th Hour Theatre Co. and then jumping over to Denmark for a production in the spring. What is it like to have your show spreading around the country?
SCD:It’s tremendous! This show has been cooking for a long, long time. It’s always felt really special to us, like it had the potential to connect with a wide audience. Now that that is starting to happen, it’s incredibly gratifying. As an artist that’s what you always hope will happen.
ASH:Around the country AND THE WORLD! (Cue demonic laughter….) Are you kidding? It’s AMAZING. I’m particularly interested to see how this subject from classic American mythology goes down with folks who have a different cultural perspective.
TM: It’s kinda unreal, but amazing. All those years ago when Lizzie began it was really pure fantasy to think anything like this could happen, and now it’s happening. It’s a rare thing in life to actually have a fantasy come true, and I’m very thankful.
A studio cast album is being released this fall. Tell us a bit about recording the album and working with that cast.
SCD: The conceit of Lizziehas always been that it is a rock concept album come to life on the stage, despite the fact that until now the album only existed in our minds. Now it’s real. It’s great to have this thing that we can hand people and say, “This is the show. Everything you need to know about Lizzie is here on this record.” And the guys who play on it and the women who sing it blow me away every time I listen.
ASH: Well, we were very fortunate that we were able to get all the planets to align. Much credit to our producer Brisa Trinchero for green-lighting it and actually making it happen and to Broadway Records for their commitment to the project. I don’t even know where to start talking about the album cast… Carrie Manolakos, Storm Large, Carrie Cimma, Ryah Nixon. Incredible, one-of-a-kind talents, all. Really, so privileged to have been able to work with them, and they each turned in phenomenal performances that reward repeated listens. I am very proud of what we accomplished. I can’t wait for people to hear it. And hear these women.
TM: The women are just amazing. Incredible singers/performers, and great people to work with. Same for the band/musicians. It was an incredible team effort from artists, to producers, to graphic designer, to our amazing engineer and more.
What are your hopes for the Borden sisters in the next few years?
TM: I hope the House Of Borden continues to expand to include more theaters, more audiences and more amazing artists through new productions, concerts and the release of the album. I want to attend many more opening nights.
ASH: I would love as many people as possible to have the opportunity to connect with Lizzie. I love the idea that, with the record available online, a kid in Japan, or Alaska, or Brazil, or Iceland, or Lithuania, could potentially find his or her way into the piece. And I would love to see people continue to come together in dark rooms all over the world and experience great artists bringing it to life right in front of their eyes and ears.
SCD:More productions! We’re at the end of the option period with the producers we’ve been working with the last couple years, so we’re giving a lot of thought to next steps. We would all love a big New York production, since New York is home, but that’s the tough nut to crack. Everything is kind of in flux right now. Stay tuned!
For more information on Lizzie, please visit www.lizziethemusical.com