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Theatre / Lizzie

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Let us take you to an August back in 1892, when all hell broke loose in the House of Borden...

In the house of Borden,
somebody left us quite a mess.
Splattered blood and brains on everything,
except on Lizzie's dress...
Bridget Sullivan, "The Fall of the House of Borden"

Lizzie (often stylized as LIZZIE, sometimes incorrectly referred to / previously known as Lizzie Borden) is an American musical written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt. It's a four-woman rock concert/musical hybrid, taking inspiration from riot grrrl music, old school queer politics, and '70s girl punk. It was born in the early '90s, but first performed as a piece of theater in 2009. Since then it has enjoyed a European tour (including a Danish translation) and several American runs.

In the August of 1892, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Famously, Andrew's younger daughter Lizzie was the prime suspect. Although Lizzie was acquitted in court, she was Convicted by Public Opinion, and many to this day believe that she was the murderer. This musical spins its own version of the Borden murders; Act One covers the weeks leading up to the deaths, while Act Two covers Lizzie's trial. Although we will likely never know for sure who killed Mr. and Mrs. Borden, the show is firmly in the "Lizzie did it" camp. Or, at the very least, Lizzie thinks she did. Given that Andrew and Abby Borden never show up and the murders are performed on messy fruits, it could have just happened in her mind. However, she is still portrayed sympathetically. Whether you believe Lizzie was the culprit or not, the show isn't about historical accuracy — it's about telling a good story, with some kick-ass music to go with it.

Lizzie contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Andrew Borden is explicitly shown to be one to Lizzie, and from the anger Emma harbors towards him, he probably isn't great to her, either.
  • Adapted Out: The musical makes no mention of Lizzie's uncle John Morse, who was visiting and staying at the house at the time of the murders. This is especially notable, since some have put Morse forth as a possible suspect; he's unaccounted for for a significant period of time on the day the Bordens were killed, and he, like Lizzie, had a potential financial motive.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: Bridget. In "Mercury Rising" and "Fall of the House of Borden"— both songs addressed to the audience— she knows of Lizzie's part in the murders, despite seeming completely oblivious while speaking with Lizzie in "Shattercane and Velvet Grass" and "Somebody Will Do Something".
  • Anachronism Stew: Punk music in 1892, (Musical influences include The Runaways and Bikini Kill— not exactly period) lyrics contain modern slang and profanity. However, the dialogue is pretty consistently period, with quite a bit of Act II either direct quotes or very slightly modified from actual transcripts and testimonies from the trials.
  • Animal Motifs: Lizzie is strongly associated with birds. She's fascinated by them, and is utterly devastated when her father kills the ones in the barn. Bridget describes her early on as "not the brightest bird," and "The Soul of the White Bird" is mostly about Lizzie's frame of mind. To cap it all off, the last sound on the original soundtrack is that of a flock of birds taking off, symbolizing Lizzie's freedom.
  • Anti-Hero: Lizzie's a double murderer, not to mention totally nuts, but she's still engaging and sympathetic enough to be endearing. It helps that Andrew Borden is portrayed as such an asshole that it's easy to root for Lizzie against him.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Chillingly, a couple of Bridget's lines indicate that the townspeople know (or at least suspect) that Lizzie's father is sexually abusing her, but no one tries to stop him or help Lizzie get away from him. (It should be noted, however, that a man forcing himself on his own daughter was seen as a heinous act even then.)
  • Arc Words: "Somebody will do something" shows up a bit
  • Artistic License – History: Alice and Lizzie's relationship probably never happened as it is shown in the show, and no one will ever know who truly did murder the Bordens. The accusations of Andrew Borden being an Abusive Parent also has no historical evidence.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "Watchmen for the Morning" is Lizzie and Emma reciting a prayer based on a Bible verse — Psalm 130:6, to be exact.
    My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning.
  • Asshole Victim: While the character of Abby Borden is just vague enough that it's hard to say whether she deserved what she got or not, Andrew Borden is such a monster that you want Lizzie to get away with it.
  • Axe-Crazy: Guess who?
  • Badass Boast: A lot of Lizzie's part in "Thirteen Days in Taunton" is this. Gloating about how you're going to get away with murder has never been so awesome.
    They tried to keep me down... but I said NO!
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: Emma gives deliberately confusing and unhelpful testimonies in court to help keep her sister out of trouble.
  • Berserk Button: Don't refer to Abby Borden as Lizzie and Emma's mother.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Emma to Lizzie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lizzie and Emma are freed from their father's abuse and have the family fortune, at the cost of Lizzie becoming a double murderer—which doesn't seem to bother her too much. Lizzie's relationship with Alice is totally destroyed by the trial, and the ending hints that Lizzie and Emma will soon be separated (referencing how historically, the two eventually had a falling out and never spoke again, dying just days apart). Lizzie, despite being acquitted, will also live the rest of her life under a cloud of suspicion, and can only hope that one day, people will forget about her—or at least, be able to understand her actions.
  • Black Comedy: What few jokes there are land firmly into this category. One standout is Lizzie tearfully asking the crowd of onlookers to come forward if they have any information on who killed her beloved father... followed by an awkward pause and Emma quickly adding, "And his wife."
  • Blatant Lies: Emma tells a few during the trial, though they're only really blatant to the audience. She also tells us she and Lizzie have "no personal objections" to Abby Borden. Riiiiiiiight.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A couple lines are addressed directly to the audience.
  • Broken Bird: Lizzie. Years of sexual abuse have not done wonders on her mental state.
  • BSoD Song: Lizzie's part in "Why Are All These Heads Off" qualifies. She's displayed slight murderous desire prior to this one, but it's for sure the breaking point.
  • Bystander Syndrome:
    • Bridget indicates that people in town suspect that Andrew is molesting Lizzie, but no one does anything. Some productions portray Bridget as knowing full well that Lizzie is being abused, but due to her status as an immigrant, a servant, and a woman, she's powerless to do anything about it, and is genuinely pained over that fact. (On top of that, it's sometimes hinted that she's being abused by the elder Bordens, too.)
    • Bridget, depending on the production, is either truly clueless about Lizzie's part in the murders, suspects something but isn't certain and just tells the cops the truth about what she saw, or knows what happened but is actively looking the other way and not getting involved. Whether that's to avoid the sisters' wrath, or because she thinks the Borden parents deserved it is up for debate. At least one prediction has Lizzie and Emma paying her off to get her out of the house at a crucial moment or to lie to the cops.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lizzie is a dark version, as most of her eccentricities come from her being mentally ill and abused.
    Bridget: They say she talks to pigeons. But who am I to judge?
  • Creepy Monotone: A lot of Lizzie's lyrics are sung this way, especially when she's in a bad mental place.
  • Crocodile Tears: Lizzie and Alice shed them after their father and stepmother are killed, completely hamming it up in "Watchmen for the Morning."
  • Dark Reprise: The first reprise of "Maybe Someday" is Lizzie singing quietly to herself as she sits in jail, trying to assure herself that this will all turn out fine.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bridget, often to the audience, and Lizzie has a few choice bits in "Thirteen Days in Taunton".
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Emma fondly remembers her dead mother, in contrast to her antipathy towards her father.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The backwards, antiquated social expectations of the Victorian age are in the forefront here.
    • Lizzie and Emma can't escape their abusive home, since they can't get jobs and incomes of their own.
    • Alice is terrified of telling Lizzie how she feels about her, since homosexuality was such a taboo subject back then.
  • Descent into Darkness Song: "Mercury Rising" starts out gentle (especially considering the very grungy song that precedes it) but as it goes, it gets lyrically darker.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Emma isn't pleased when she realizes Lizzie murdered their father... because the plan was only to get their stepmother out of the way. And an axe wasn't part of the plan, either.
  • Door Slam of Rage: Lizzie and Emma do this so often, it's worked into the music! Nearly every time one of them exits a room, they're so angry at their parents that they slam the door behind them.
  • Double Entendre: "Will You Stay?" has got quite a few of these.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Mr. and Mrs. Borden are murdered. Lizzie is accused, and then acquitted.
  • Freudian Excuse: Lizzie's abuse at the hands of her father cause her to want him dead.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Lizzie's middle name, "Andrew."
    Lizzie: Father wanted a boy.
  • The Ghost: Anyone not named Lizzie, Emma, Bridget, or Alice.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: It's heavily implied the reason Mr. Borden killed the birds in the barn is because he knows about Lizzie's relationship with Alice.
  • Hey, You!: Emma and Lizzie refer to their stepmother as "Mrs. Borden" at best, or sometimes "our father's wife" or, occasionally, "that woman." Already pretty cold by our standards, but then you remember that this is the Victorian era.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: While the real Andrew Borden wasn't the nicest fellow, and a notorious miser, there's no evidence he ever raped Lizzie (although some have theorised that he did). There's also no evidence Abby Borden tried to close the sisters out of the will.
  • Idea Bulb: An audible one cues "Shattercane and Velvet Grass."
    Lizzie: The Book of Household Poisons?
    Bridget: Time for Mrs. Borden's tea!
  • The Ingenue: Alice is kindhearted, innocent, and hopelessly in love.
  • Invisible Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Borden are never seen by the audience, though the sisters sometimes address them offstage.
  • Karma Houdini: The show ends with Lizzie quite literally getting away with murder.
  • Lap Pillow: Alice has Lizzie rest her head in her lap after "Maybe Someday" so she can get some sleep.
  • Large Ham: Emma's part is completely lacking in subtlety. Bridget can be this too, especially if the actress plays up the Oireland accent.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: It's hard to see Andrew Borden's murder at the hands of the daughter he's raping as anything but this. Payback's a bitch, ain't it?
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Alice is generally the closest to Victorian femininity, (as well as the closest tied to the Victorian period; nearly all her songs/solo parts are arranged on piano and strings, excepting "Gotta Get Out of Here",)and is in love with Lizzie.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Although she cares deeply for Alice, it's clear that Emma is this to Lizzie. Tellingly, the murders happen when Emma leaves Lizzie alone with Mr. and Mrs. Borden for a few days.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: The Borden sisters aren't really "kids" anymore, but they're very wealthy, very sheltered, and very unhappy.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Mercury Rising" and "Burn The Old Thing Up" are very gentle in comparison to the other songs and have beautiful harmonies. They're about patricide and destroying evidence, respectively. There's also "Shattercane and Velvet Glass," which is about contemplating poisoning somebody.
  • Mind Screw: Besides Lizzie, Emma, Bridget, and Alice, no other characters make an appearence. The murders are usually represented by Lizzie hacking an axe into watermelons or pumpkins. The band is often onstage and visible to the audience. The costumes for Act 1 are accurate to the 1890s while the Hotter and Sexier Act 2 costumes look like something out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. How much of this is supposed to be real?
  • Minimalist Cast: Only four people appear onstage, and they all play the same characters throughout.
  • Miser Advisor: Mr. Borden is a notorious penny-pincher, despite already being, in Bridget's words, "fucking rich." Truth in Television.
  • Morality Pet: Lizzie to Emma. Emma's not a very nice person and can be rude, but she loves her sister more than anything.
  • Nice Girl: Alice is a genuinely kindhearted, likable girl.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Played with. Emma and Lizzie are usually cordial enough to Bridget, but sometimes snap or behave rudely towards her.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Occasionally in the hair-metal style Act 2 costumes. Lizzie's Act 1 costume has a bodice that laces up in the front, but this is actually used as Fan Disservice, since its purpose is to be unlaced when Lizzie recalls, or experiences, sexual abuse at the hands of her father.
  • Parental Incest: Sexual abuse from her father is what drives Lizzie to kill him.
  • Parental Substitute: Emma's the closest thing Lizzie has to a mother figure.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: When Emma leaves for Fairhaven for a few days.
    Lizzie: Please, don't leave me here, alone with them!
  • Promotion to Parent: Although their father is still alive and they have a stepmother, Emma essentially mothers Lizzie.
  • Proper Lady: Alice is sort of a subversion, as she would be this... except she's gay, which in Victorian society, is an automatic disqualification.
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: It's never made clear exactly how old Lizzie is, but it is clear she's entirely too old for the way she acts. She has a childlike temper, as well as a somewhat immature view of the world, at least partially due to her father's abuse and her sheltered upbringing. (For the record, the real Lizzie was 32 when the murders happened.)
  • Rage Breaking Point: After many, many wrongdoings by her father, what actually pushes Lizzie to homicide is when he kills the birds in the barn. The birds were one of her few sources of genuine happiness, so she doesn't take their deaths well.
  • Rejected Apology: In "This is Not Love," Lizzie rejects her father's obviously insincere apologies, even if she can't do it to his face.
  • Rich Bitch: All the Bordens, to some degree. Abby is (from what little we know), the most normal of them, but she also tries to close the sisters out of the will. Emma is relatively sane, but she's short-tempered and often rude. Lizzie's marginally nicer than Emma, but is not sane in any sense of the word. And then there's Andrew.
  • Running Gag:
    Bridget: What do you want for breakfast?
    Lizzie or Emma: I don't want any breakfast.
  • Sanity Slippage: Lizzie isn't all there at the start of the show, but the first act puts her through the wringer over the course of what's implied to be a couple weeks, and she rapidly descends into murderous insanity. Inverted in the second act; killing her father and stepmother seems to have made her more sane.
  • Secret Relationship: Lizzie and Alice, for obvious reasons.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Lizzie's mother died when she was only a baby, and years later, Lizzie orphans herself by killing her father and stepmother.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Emma has the most profane vocabulary in the cast, even getting a whole song called "What the Fuck Now, Lizzie?!"
  • Sleep Cute: Alice and Lizzie in the barn fall asleep curled up together, and it's completely adorable. (Probably the only moment in the show that can be described as such.)
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Neither of the Borden sisters are much fun to be around, but when you look at their home life, it's easy to see why.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Both of the Borden sisters do this from time to time. Lizzie delivers the verses of "Somebody Will Do Something" in a quiet, Creepy Monotone, but then the chorus starts and she begins screaming. And then there's Emma on the subject of her stepmother...
    Emma: We've no personal objections, BUT SHE CAN'T HAVE WHAT'S OURS!
  • Sung-Through Musical: There is some spoken dialogue, but very little; you could get almost the whole experience just from the album.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Lizzie. It's very easy to root for her.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The second reprise of "Maybe Someday," where Lizzie and Emma reflect that maybe one day they'll be able to tell the world why they did what they did... but at least Lizzie's been acquitted, meaning the worst of it is over.
    Our secret's safe now...
  • Unstoppable Rage: The end of Act One has Lizzie reaching this point, finally at her limit with her father's abuse. Cue the axe!
  • Wanted a Son Instead: In one of her first solo lines, Lizzie dryly informs us that "Father wanted a boy." Referenced later on.
    Lizzie: (axe in hand) Father will be napping... HE'LL WISH HE HAD THAT SON!
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • "What the Fuck Now, Lizzie?!" is a subversion. Emma's not calling Lizzie out for murdering two people, she's just wondering how on Earth they're going to get away with it.
    • Alice calling Lizzie out for potentially murdering her parents, and asking Alice to lie for her, is a straighter example.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Both sisters view Abby Borden as this. Whether or not Abby actually is this is unclear, but she does try and close the sisters out of the will.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Lizzie does commit double homicide, but to get out of an abusive home and escape financial instability. It's also clear that she's not entirely right in the head, most likely because of said abuse.