Whilst London audiences are used to new musicals arriving in the UK via New York and North America it's certainly a novelty to welcome one following a premiere in Denmark. The UK premiere of Lizzie carries with it all the surface-level sensibilities of a rock musical, namely a melodramatic score with a gutsy story to match. More rock concert than traditional musical the production threatens to tear the roof off the Greenwich Theatre, presenting the fabled case of Lizzie Bordon who killed her stepmother and father with forty strikes of an axe in 19th century New England with sufficient angst and gusto but with little regard to dramatic or musical shape.
In the programme the authors Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner applaud the fact the score has little in common with Sondheim or Lloyd Webber, holding this up as a virtue as if to preempt any musical criticism. Whilst the music is certainly rooted in the rock tradition, like countless scores since the 1960s, the songs rarely drive or serve the dramatic situations in which they paint, somewhat negating their primary storytelling function. Melodious in part they offer little in the way of light and shade - everything remains on one dramatic level - loud and overly wrought. Try as they may each performer can't bring more than strong vocals to the asinine lyrics jam-packed with half rhymes that resist subtleties and solid musical development. 'Europop' in sound the expansive song list lacks variation or sculpture; rather than crafting a score of rises and falls it drives forward on one level throughout and is rarely memorable.
That said it's wonderfully realised by an onstage rock band led by musical director Martin Bergmann Konge that remains tight and suitably mixed, adding to the overall anarchic atmosphere that the show presents. Dramaturgically challenged the show stretches its thin narrative over two acts with the climax occurring at the act break leaving very little to be resolved, explored or embellished. Hints at darker and more dramatic issues are never picked up on, instead the story were told in the first moment becomes the only narrative arc worth following. At times it's incoherent and scrappy but director Victoria Bussert blinds us with a thrilling light show and keeps the volume ramped up to patch over the inconsistencies in character, time and place.
All four stunning women perform with handheld microphones which reinforces the concert-style but doesn't allow them to find any truth or connection in their interactions. There are some skilful moments of choreography that add to the show's tightly rehearsed manner but too much emphasis is placed on the destruction of the watermelons that reads as a desperate search for a coup de theatre that quite frankly doesn't justify the stage management's twenty minute clean-up operation.
The performances are full throated, committed and often thrilling to watch. Danish performer Bjorg Gamst brims with danger in the title role alongside Broadway's Eden Espinosa as her sister Emma who enjoys ample room to show off her cracking vocals. Jodie Jacobs adopts a strange Irish accent to play the barely-written maid but brings her powerful voice and watchable charm to the fore alongside Bleu Woodward as her equally sidelined friend.
About as subtle as an axe to the skull this production offers a set of killer performances constrained within a musically unsatisfying and dramatically incomplete piece of theatre.