Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

Or did she? Borden was acquitted of the ax murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Mass., in 1892, after all.

The story of the underdog who rises up and finds her own voice can be a powerful one. That's the premise of "Lizzie the Musical." The fictionalized tale resonated strongly with John and Danita Thomas of Strongsville when they saw the rock musical in Chicago in 2017.

"I saw women my age ... weeping, crying, cheering, clapping,'' Danita Thomas said.

The Thomases believe in "Lizzie" so much, they'll mount the musical Off-Broadway Aug. 4 as lead producers for a limited 12-week run at the Signature Theatre, where Victoria Bussert, director of Baldwin Wallace University's musical theater program, will direct.

Aug. 4 is the exact anniversary of the infamous Borden killings, which have achieved American murder mystery folklore status.

On Sunday night, the Thomases and Bussert gave a sneak preview of the upcoming Off-Broadway show at Baldwin Wallace's Fynes Hall, featuring students Kailey Boyle, Amy Keum, Tia Karaplis and Veronica Otim rocking out to three of the show's fierce songs. 

"Lizzie," which has an all-female cast of four, had been developed at Baldwin Wallace in Berea and performed by students in productions with Playhouse Square in 2012 and 2017, under the direction of Bussert. The show features music by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, lyrics by Cheslik-DeMeyer and Tim Maner and a book by Maner.

Bussert also directed the professional productions of "Lizzie" in Chicago in April 2017, and Denmark and London before that. The European productions starred Eden Espinosa of "Wicked" fame as Lizzie's sister, Emma.

Sunday's sneak preview event in Berea, which about 100 attended and included an invitation for investors, also featured footage from the Denmark show with its massive concert lighting. The Thomases, who have previously produced Broadway's "Little Women" and are producers for "The Secret Garden" revival, slated for Broadway, say their goal is to transfer "Lizzie" to Broadway by spring 2020.

Off-Broadway casting will be announced in the coming weeks. For more information about the show, see https://www.lizziethemusicalnyc.com or Lizzie the Musical NYC on Facebook. 

Bussert first directed "Lizzie" at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Festival of New Musicals in New York in 2010. She next led her BW students in a 20-minute concert version on campus, followed by a full production with Playhouse Square.

In the musical, Lizzie, accused of murder, reaches rock star status. Two of Bussert's students who played "Lizzie," Shannon O'Boyle and Keri Rene Fuller, have gone on to work on Broadway.

"As we rehearsed it, I noticed that something was changing in my students," Bussert said. "I'm watching these four women become bigger, take up more psychological space.''

 

Harriet Tubman

Barberton's Magical Theatre Company will stage "Harriet Tubman: An American Moses" this weekend only, running 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. In this play, one of America’s greatest heroes tells about her extraordinary life, from her beginnings as a slave to her work with the Underground Railroad and beyond.

Dennis O’Connell directs an adult cast featuring Reva Golden as Harriet Tubman, Adam Hoffman, Amanda Kidd, Mark Ross and Gregory Hill. Performances will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the actors and director.

The theater recommends that the play, which includes some harsh language of the time period, will be most enjoyed by audience members ages 12 and older. Tickets are $15-$17, or $17-$19 on opening night Friday. See www.magicaltheatre.org or call 330-848-3708.

 

Dance happenings

• More than 90 costumed performers will dance in the University of Akron Dance Institute's "The Snow Maiden," to be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St. In this ballet, a little girl made of snow comes to life in a world with magical fairies, playful animals and a mysterious Snow Queen. The ballet is performed to a score by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov.

Cost is $18 for adults and $12 for students. Call 330-253-2488 or see www.ticketmaster.com.

• Chinese contemporary dance company Beijing Dance Theater will make its Ohio debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Playhouse Square's Ohio Theatre. The program is co-presented by Tri-C, DanceCleveland and the Cleveland Public Library.

Founded in 2008, Beijing Dance Theater is led by choreographer Wang Yuanyuan and visual artists Tan Shaoyuan and Hanjiang. The Cleveland program will feature "Hamlet," a reimagining of Shakespeare's story with ballet movements that capture the prince’s struggles following his father's murder. (See https://bit.ly/2UuZhYt.)

Also on the program are the trance-like fantasia "Wild Grass" (see https://bit.ly/2RVqnLf) and "Crossing," which pits lyrical movement against stark realities of space and sound. Tickets are $25 to $45. See www.playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.