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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 6 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 23
LIZZIE - The Rock Opera! - An interview with Mary Kate Morrissey
Arts & Entertainment
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LIZZIE - The Rock Opera! - An interview with Mary Kate Morrissey

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

LIZZIE
GERDING THEATER
AT THE ARMORY
PORTLAND, OREGON
Through June 29


The legend of Lizzie Borden has become a darker part of American History. Acquitted of the double homicide of her father and his second wife, Lizzie has been the subject of television movies, at least a dozen books, documentaries and now, an All-Girl, Steam-Punk, Rock Opera! With a double-album concept already released (that The Advocate called one of the best NY Theatre 2009), LIZZIE blends together several myths of this infamously accused murderess, including dark family secrets and rumors of a Lesbian relationship, and uses actual documented court transcripts within its lyrics. The Seattle Gay News caught up with Mary Kate Morrissey in the axe-wielding title role of Lizzie, as well as a few of the show's creators.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences for Lizzie?

Steven Cheslik-deMeyer (music/lyrics, original concept): Patti Smith - for the poetry and raw emotion, and the idea that rock and roll has a transcendent and salvific quality. I listened to Horses many times while writing LIZZIE. The Runaways - for the aggression, sex and fuck you. Lita Ford - the tone and attitude of LIZZIE is highly influenced by Lita. Especially 'Kiss Me Deadly' and the raunchy melodrama teetering on the edge of camp found in her solo music. Grace Slick/Jefferson Airplace - that style of rock belt seemed to fit perfectly into a rock musical.

Alan Stevens Hewitt (music, additional lyrics/orchestration): My major influences for LIZZIE include Nirvana, Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, The Beatles, The Who, Floyd, The Clash, the list goes on.... Classical music was an influence, too: I may have drawn as much upon Queens of the Stone Age as from Stravinsky - particularly the first three movements of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring.' Another strong influence was Richard Wagner's use of leitmotivs and Hector Berlioz's (among others) process of thematic transformation. 'I used these techniques extensively throughout to unify the score and develop ideas and themes. I snuck in an 'Easter Egg' as well by using the line 'somewhere, a place for us' from Bernstein's West Side Story.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first reaction to hearing about the all-girl, steam punk rock opera LIZZIE? Mary Kate

Morrissey: It sounded like a dream role. To be cast in a show with four strong women rocking out on stage is amazing. Girls to the front.

Andrews-Katz: There have been many retellings of Lizzie Borden including a 1965 opera. What makes the rock opera stand out?

Morrissey: I'm actually not familiar with many of the other retellings of the Lizzie Borden tale. LIZZIE stands out compared to other musical theater productions because it's a cast of all women, and the characters are all strong and dynamic. The ladies in LIZZIE rock out with their cocks out - or I guess you would say they jam out with their clams out.

Andrews-Katz: One theory says that Lizzie Borden was a Lesbian. Do you feel that theory is homophobic or does it play a part in her alleged crime?

Morrissey: In this show Lizzie Borden is Queer. She deals with a strong conflict of interest regarding her love. I don't think it's homophobic to make this character Queer. Some characters are Queer and that's okay. People couldn't believe that a woman was capable of murder with an ax. During that time period they could see a woman killing someone with poison, but never an ax.

Lizzie Andrew Borden was born July 19, 1860. She and her older sister Emma were the only children of Andrew Jackson Borden, a wealthy man known for his frugality. Neither daughter was fond of Mr. Borden's second wife, Abby, and the situation escalated when they found out she was to be the beneficiary in their father's will. After the acquittal of the August 1892 double homicide, Lizzie remained in the same small city in Massachusetts despite being ostracized from Fall River society. No one else was ever accused of the murders.

LIZZIE runs May 24-June 29 at the Gerding Theater At The Armory (128 NW 11th Ave., Portland, Oregon) www.pcs.org; 503-445-3700.

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