By Jim Sohre
★★★★★ - Irresistible
With the opening of the theatre venue, The Playhouse, there is double cause for rejoicing.
First, is the inviting atmosphere of the new space itself, intimate, adaptable, and centrally located, tucked away in a cozy corner of the Antique Market shopping center, 528 S. Decatur Boulevard a few blocks south of the 95. Yeoman’s work has already been accomplished to turn this black box into a versatile, well-outfitted, comfortable room in which to perform or view live theatre.
Second, and even better reason for some resounding hurrah’s is that the redoubtable hit-making company, Poor Richard’s Players has opened the Playhouse with a no holds barred, in your face, gut punching, ear ravishing Las Vegas premiere production of the rock opera Lizzie, a vibrant, pulsating riff on the true tale of Lizzie Borden.
Tim Maner has cobbled together a fascinating book that is an expressionistic mosaic of facts, conjecture, urban legend, incest, evidence tampering, forbidden love, sibling rivalry, class warfare, and of course, Gothic horror. He, joined by creators Steven Cheslik-DeMayer and Alan Stevens Hewitt have crafted an eclectic score that covers many moods and careens effortlessly from throbbing metal to eerie chanting to pop-rock ballads to Glass-like repetition with an easy mayhem and utmost conviction.
Please know this: You won’t find a better sung show in town. This sublimely matched cast of four strong women challenge each other to meet the highest level of musicianship. This gifted quartet powers a pitch perfect display of vocalizing, singly and together, in a piece that is almost entirely sung.
In the title role, the always-enjoyable Amanda Kraft scored a new personal best. Ms.Kraft deftly anchors the show as a febrile, feline creature who gyrates and prowls the premises like the tortured trapped animal that is Lizzie Borden. Her internalization of complex subtext was fully communicated, and her singing communicated murderous spontaneity, tremulous fear, ardent affection, and frightening determination with equal success. This was a triumphant role assumption.
As the domineering maid, Bridget Sullivan, Kim Glover reveled in her assignment, whether as insidious instigator of dissent and violence, mock careless dropper of secret information, or sardonic source of macabre comedy. For much of the evening, Ms. Glover made searing use of her potent chest voice, hurling out secure phrases that seemed to have the inexorable, fiery flow of molten lava. But on a few choice flights into the upper register, she proved she could also take our breath away with suddenly lilting virtuosic displays.
Lizzie’s sister Emma Borden was capably embodied by the henna-haired dynamo, Kaci Machacyk, who found many ways to demand our attention in the writing’s least well-defined character. Her commanding stage presence was wedded to a steely commitment in her singing, which she could also modulate to great effect when called upon to communicate her gentler, sisterly side. Ms. Machacyk also made short work of the show’s most memorable title, with her frenzied, electrifying version of “What the F*** Now, Lizzie?”
Coco Lane Rigbye completes the cast as neighbor Alice Russell, who often has an uncomplicated winsome quality, but eventually displays an underpinning of resolute grit. As her layers peel away, Ms. Rigbye manages to reveal the show’s most manifold personality with a secret or three that she keeps under wraps. Her introspective ballad in Act I was so hauntingly rendered, it alone was well worth the price of admission.
Music Director Karalyn Clark has prepared her forces flawlessly. Leading from the keyboard, she paces the whole evening with great skill, and helms the band with immense gusto and knowing sensitivity. The talented musicians are Rik Wade (guitar), Robert Bishop (drums), and Thomas Chrastka (bass and ambient sounds). David Clark’s sound design was well mixed overall, although there are a few wrought moments in the heat of an impassioned number when the text became difficult to discern.
Mr. Clark also contributed a very detailed lighting design that was well-cued, making notably fine use of areas, specials and colors. He was ably abetted by Anthony Barnaby’s winning visual art design that was full of surprises and spooky delights. Kim Glover’s evocative costumes had a Steampunk sensibility and were commendably revelatory of the characters wearing them. Ben Loewy’s artful set made efficient use of the playing area, with nice use of levels, and well dressed with carefully chosen set pieces and props.
Mr. Loewy also directed with an unerring hand and a keen eye to character development. He moved his four iconic women about their environment with variety and purpose. Relationships were well defined, and stage business was inventive and resonant, always with the dramatic aims of the piece at hand. I especially liked such effects as the rhythmic slamming of two heavy doors that underscored tense moments in the action.
Lizzie is a tight, riveting, mesmerizing, one-of-a-kind production. But it is more than that. Coupled with the Grand Opening of the Valley’s newest place to see theatre, it is “An Occasion,” and how often do those come along? Trust me on this, you’ll want to say you were there. Bravi, tutti!