DECATUR — Just in time for Halloween, Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre will present the chilling and true tale of Lizzie Borden, a woman accused of the brutal ax murder of her father and stepmother in 1892.

The musical “Lizzie” will be on stage for the next three weekends at the Millikin University’s Pipe Dreams Theatre.

The history of Lizzie Borden and her murder trial acquittal is the basis for the play. Much of the musical was created by what the writers, Tim Maner, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, believe was gossip at the time.

"They take a lot of rumors that were never proven about Lizzie Borden, and they made them come true," director John Farina said.

For example, the relationship between Lizzie and her neighbor was said to have been more than a friendship. It was also rumored Lizzie's father had sexually abused her.

"That was never proven," Farina said.

Many consider Borden's trial to be the first to be followed by a national audience, captivated by the grizzly details and sordid backstory and rumors. It inspired a skipping-rope rhyme:

"Lizzy Borden took an ax

and gave her mother forty whacks

and when she saw what she had done

she gave her father forty-one."

The production at Millikin has been separated into two casts with four female lead actors for each show. The director said he chose to create more than one cast performance because the show is vocally demanding. “We didn’t want the voices to wear down,” Farina said. “This way the quality of the show stays the same.”

The cast will utilize all of the theater's small space along with a six-piece rock band, consisting of two guitars, bass, cello, piano and drums. Farina said the music is an important part of the play.

"The band is the aesthetics of the show," he said. "Without the band, the show wouldn't live up to its full potential."

The music will have a range of rock styles, including ballads and heavy metal.

The actresses find “Lizzie” to be an interesting choice of plays for their college theater.

Mackenzie Barnette, who plays Lizzie in half of the plays, challenges herself, searching to find the human side of the alleged villain.

“I'm not a psycho killer, so this has been kind of fun,” she said.

The music is an added element making her performance easier.

“The music encompasses the complexity and the frustration that is going on her head,” Barnette said.

Actress Stephanie Simon said few musical theater productions have the raw feelings seen in “Lizzie.”

“The rock musical allows the passion and intense emotion of the story to come through in a way that is accepted,” she said. “And rock music can be kind of violent.”

The musical was originally written in the 1990s and revamped in 2016, the version Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre casts will portray.

Although the audience never sees the father and mother or their demise, they will see blood. The show is not family friendly, due to language, violence, intimacy and subject matter.

"Well, she does kill her parents," actress Shauna Sloan said.


Staff Writer

“Together Decatur” columnist, food and entertainment reporter for the Herald & Review.

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