Lizbeth A. Borden was a frequent theatergoer. Single and wealthy, Borden often attended performances in New York City and Boston, travelling from her home in Fall River, Mass.
Ms. Borden passed in 1927. Had she lived a few years longer, she would have had the opportunity to see herself portrayed on stage.
The Lizzie Borden house, where the infamous murders took place (2009).
Whether she would have wanted to be is an open question.
Known to the public by her birth name Lizzie, Borden may have been uncomfortable seeing a character based on her in the 1933 play Nine Pine Street, even if her doppelgänger was portrayed by the great Lillian Gish.
Lillian Gish professional headshot (1921).
Borden’s discomfort would be understandable as the play concerned the event that made her a public figure: the brutal murder of her father and stepmother for which she was charged, tried and acquitted.
Adding to Lizzie’s potential discomfort is that many believed the verdict was wrong.
Lizzie and the grisly tale with which she will always be associated have been portrayed in film and television, and on stage in dramas, an opera and a ballet.
LIZZIE: The Musical, added, er, musicals to that list, specifically rock musicals, when it premiered in 2009. Jobsite Theater first presented LIZZIE in 2016 and will bring it back to the stage with Colleen Cherry reprising the title role.
Watch a sneak peak of the cast of Jobsite’s LIZZIE perform “Why Are All These Heads Off?”, from their first sing through of the musical.
Lizzie’s relationship with her parents was contentious. Particularly irksome was her wealthy but miserly father’s insistence on the family living well below its means.
One wonders how the story would have turned out if Lizzie had a healthy outlet for her anger and disappointment. Unfortunately, rock ’n’ roll wouldn’t emerge for several more years.
Rock music is the ideal format for telling the Lizzie Borden story, since no other genre has so often concerned itself with the ongoing clashes of parents v. children.
Eddie Cochran sang about it in 1958’s “Summertime Blues,” when Mom and Papa said he couldn’t use the car ‘cause he didn’t work a lick. Twenty years later, Cheap Trick was a bit more conciliatory in “Surrender,” allowing that the folks were “all right, they just seem a little weird.” The Beastie Boys fought their parents (and teachers and anybody else) for their right to party. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince concluded that “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Suicidal Tendencies just wanted Mom to get them a Pepsi and wound up “Institutionalized.”
The first time Broadway acknowledged rock ‘n’ roll, 1960’s Bye Bye Birdie, the plot was as much about the rows between the parents and teens of Sweet Apple, Ohio, as it was about conscripted rock ‘n’ roller Conrad Birdie.
Granted, Lizzie was 32 years old at the time of the killings, a bit long in the tooth for teenage angst. Also, none of the parents of Sweet Apple wound up looking like the remains of a bad day at butcher’s school.
But that contentious framework of kids v. parents remains, tying Lizzie to every frustrated teen rolling their eyes at mom and dad.
LIZZIE: The Musical tells this lurid tale through songs full of gallows humor and attitude, backed by a six-piece rock group and delivered by four fierce female singers. As the show’s website puts it: “Rage! Sex! Betrayal! BLOODY MURDER!” Yep, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.