Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In a New Musical, Acquitted Murder Suspect Lizzie Borden Is Guilty of Rocking Out

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In a New Musical, Acquitted Murder Suspect Lizzie Borden Is Guilty of Rocking Out

Article excerpt

The court acquitted her.

The playground jingle never did.

"Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one."

The jingle gets a lot wrong. Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby, each received fewer than 20 blows (though that was enough to kill them). Abby Borden was Lizzie's stepmother, not her mother. And when they were killed, in 1892, the police in Fall River, Mass., believed the weapon was a hatchet, which is different from an ax.

No matter. Lizzie Borden, defendant in one of the most sensational trials in American history, was judged guilty in the court of public opinion.

Maybe she was guilty. One of the best arguments against her was the lack of any other credible suspect (and nobody else ever was charged). If she didn't do it, who did?

All the other theories some frankly rooted in fiction are strained. Borden's own lawyers made little effort to justify the contradictions in her story, except to say that a doctor gave her morphine after the shock of the double murder.

So she didn't know what she was saying? That's perilously close to another kind of defense: She did it, but she didn't know what she was doing.

Or maybe she was innocent, in which case her position as an unmarried woman of independent means may have contributed to suspicions that have persisted for over a century.

Before the murders, Borden was a Sunday school teacher in a New England church imbued with the Puritan strain. Remember how, at the nadir of their long history, the Puritans treated a number of independent women?

Maybe 200 years after the fact, luckless Lizzie Borden was the last victim of the "culture wars" that brought us the Salem witch trials.

Well, the cultural sands have shifted. Now she's the protagonist of "Lizzie," a rock musical by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner. It makes its St. Louis debut Friday at New Line Theatre and there's nothing 19th century about it.

At one time, musical theater generally tried to imbue shows that boasted period or exotic settings with music that sounded "authentic." Think of "The March of the Royal Siamese Children" in "The King and I," the world-weary Francophelia of "Allez-Vous-En" in "Can-Can," or Tevye's klezmer-inflected "If I Were a Rich Man" in "Fiddler on the Roof"

But recent seasons have introduced a striking alternative. Some important new shows, exploring anachronism, use contemporary rock scores to tell stories that take place long ago.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," which comes to the Fox Theatre in April, is the most famous example. But there are more, among them "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" (which New Line staged in 2012) and "Spring Awakening" (which Stray Dog staged that same year. It opens again there on Thursday night, under the direction of Justin Been. …

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