Lizzie: dark, queer rock musical is exhilaratingly bonkers

"Lizzie" has played across the globe in many iterations, with a unique Australian adaptation now playing the Hayes Theatre Co. Photo: Phil Erbacher/supplied.

Review: Lizzie, Hayes Theatre Co, Elizabeth Bay, in association with the Sydney Festival – Wednesday, 19 January, 2022. Reviewed by Sunny Grace.

★★★★ 

A most satisfying night at the theatre, the musical Lizzie is not for the faint of heart.

I am not one to frequent musicals. In my lifetime I’ve seen Les Misérables, Billy Elliot and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When I heard Lizzie, now playing at the Hayes Theatre, described as a dark queer rock musical, owing its music more to Hole and Bikini Kill than Andrew Lloyd Webber, I was intrigued, to say the least. My twenties were spent listening to Hole and consuming riot grrrl culture. It is not something I had seen explored in a musical before.

Lizzie is based on the American story of Lizzie Borden, accused of murdering her parents in 1892, and has played in many cities and iterations across the globe. It has travelled across Australia’s tight border controls, where others have failed, thanks to director Maeve Marsden and her collaborators with their Australian interpretation of this highly original piece.

From the moment the lights are up, we realise this is going to be a unique experience. Ten women walk onto the stage, wearing different versions of modern Gothic costume, with a little steampunk. Six of the women walk to the back of the stage to take their place in the music pit with their instruments, ranging from double bass to drums, where they remain thinly-veiled throughout the performance. They serve as another character, a kind of musical coven, in this sordid Gothic tale of queer love, dysfunctional families and murder.

Marissa Saroca (right) is a powerhouse in her role as Lizzie, accompanied by the wistful tones of Stefanie Caccamo (left) who plays Alice. Photo: Phil Erbacher/supplied.

We are introduced to the House of Borden by the four female protagonists: Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Maggie and their neighbour Alice. The sparse, brooding production design by Melanie Liertz cleverly introduces each character. Lizzie in her pigeon coop; Emma, her study with books and typewriter; Maggie, her kitchen; and Alice with her fence to peek over longingly at Lizzie.

We learn the House of Borden is not a happy home but rather a house of secrets and suppressed rage. After the death of Lizzie and Emma’s mother, their father marries Abby, much to the sister’s dismay, especially when their stepmother threatens to leave them penniless. Performed with vigour and gusto, Marissa Saroca is a powerhouse as Lizzie. Her gutsy voice offset by the wistful longing tones of Stefanie Caccamo, who plays Alice, as we learn of their queer love.  

Sarah Ward as Maggie/Bridget is marvellous, bringing humour and wit to her role – part wicked witch, part fairy godmother with a dash of Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show. The whole cast is terrific, from their performances to their wonderful voices, alone and in accompaniment.

All the while, the band – conducted by musical director Victoria Falconer – revels in glee as the tempo ramps up to the deadly reveal before the interval. We are welcomed back to the second half with a hilarious cameo by Falconer on the piano, allowing us to share her delight in being part of this production. 

It is in this second half the costumes come into their own. Lizzie struts onto the stage in singlet and pants, hair slicked back; long gone is the little girl’s dress. She is all grown up and able to be her authentic self now Daddy is no longer around. Maggie has gone from servant witch to clown jester with oversized shoes and clown makeup.

Lizzie is an energetic production that leaves audience members walking away in delight, writes Sunny Grace. Photo: Phil Erbacher/supplied.

By the time we are gifted with the magnificent ‘What the F*ck Now, Lizzie?’ we are ready to revel in the revenge. This song and the choreography had my colleague and I leaning in as close as possible to enjoy this moment of satisfying profanity. Ali Calder as Emma is a standout in this number. The ending could do with a little clarification as it seems to end all too quickly but is a minor quibble in what is an outstanding new production.

Director Maeve Marsden has crafted a truly bonkers experience in the best possible way, reminding me of John Waters’ Cry Baby with its rock soundtrack and subversion of the musical genre.

We were exhilarated and energised on leaving the theatre. Go and see it for a night of outrageous buoyant fun.

Lizzie plays the Hayes Theatre Company, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Elizabeth Bay until Saturday, 5 February, 2022. For tickets and further information, visit https://hayestheatre.com.au/event/lizzie/.

Sunny Grace is a Sydney writer, producer and director. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.

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