Saturday, October 5, 2013

Album Review: LIZZIE (Original Studio Cast Recording)

This album's been a long time coming, having been delayed for release a few months ago for unexplained reasons. But Lizzie, a concept recording of a new rock musical retelling of famous murderess Lizzie Borden, is finally here. The question is: Was it worth the wait?

I've always been wary of musicals that take historical subject matter and set it to anachronistic modern music. Some musicals do it well, such as Pasek and Paul's Dogfight which had a contemporary pop score that still paid homage to the 1960s era of the story. Lizzie, conversely, makes no effort to harken back musically to the 1800s, but rather presents us with a full-on heavy rock-and-roll score by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens. And it commits so fully to this that it really, really works. I went into this album with trepidation, but emerged with a huge grin on my face. Lizzie is campy, creepy, fun, and thunderously rockin'.

The album opens with a deliciously chilling singsong of the well known jump-roping rhyme: "Lizzie Borden took and axe, and gave her mother forty whacks..." set to an eerie childlike melody that slowly morphs into pounding rock music. While my initial fear was that the album, which clocks in at almost 80 minutes in length, would start to sound repetitive and stagnant, I can happily report that the score is actually wonderfully and unexpectedly diverse and varied. It's not so much about exploration of other musical genres, don't get me wrong... the music is all pleasingly uniform. Rather, each song is very melodically distinctive in its own right. Not an easy feat, especially for a score of this nature.

The songs get the blood pumping... they're catchy, powerfully full-of-life, and have melodies that soar even while the songs are pounding and aggressive. The lyrics are fun, clever, and poetic, though at times they tend more towards sounding prosaic and forced. They do, however, communicate the story with astonishing clarity. It's hard to find a musical theatre score that so clearly communicates the show's narrative after only one listen.

And of course, we have to talk about the vocal talent that carries this surprisingly strong score. The all-female powerhouse cast consists of Storm Large, Ryah Nixon, Carrie Cimma, and Carrie Manolakos in the title role. All four of these exceptional women are excellent navigators of such an in-your-face rock style of music, and they belt the hell out of this challenging work as well as find moments of gorgeous, melodic restraint. They sing forceful and crisp harmonies and tackle the music's roughness and dirtiness with wild abandon and aplomb. A joy and pleasure to listen to from beginning to end.

Some favourite tracks include the gorgeous Mercury Rising, which has a pretty a capella harmony in the middle; the lively finale Into Your Wildest Dreams; and the romantically powerful Will You Stay?, sung strongly by Manolakos and Nixon. However, the entire score holds together and maintains buoyancy from the first chord to the last. This music must be simply chill-inducing in a live setting.

Lizzie surprised the hell out of me. I don't just like it... I love it. Fans of rock musicals, or just rock music or musical theatre in general, will love it too. It's a powerfully sung, melodic, exciting, at times overwhelmingly powerful new work of musical theatre immortalized perfectly by Broadway Records. What's not to love about that?

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