'This score was just so good': Doctuh Mistuh presents 'Lizzie, the Musical'
“Doctuh Mistuh started probably 15 years ago with a production of Evil Dead [the Musical] where we probably had more blood on stage than any show in Austin ever has," says Doctuh Mistuh artistic director Michael McKelvey, recalling the early days of his production company. “And since that time, we've done some really dark pieces like Nevermore… Reefer Madness… Silence! The Musical was a big hit for us.”
McKelvey and Doctuh Mistuh have long been advocates of the offbeat contemporary musical, and if that musical happens to be darkly comic and/or feature murder and blood, well that just seems to sweeten the pot. So it should really be no surprise that, after a few years away from town, they’ve come back to Austin to present their take on Lizzie, the Musical, the rock musical about Lizzie Borden and the famous 1892 murders that she may or may not have committed.
"Now with Lizzie,” McKelvey says, “This is a show we've been aware of for about 10 years. And it's played in six countries, all over the United States, and won tons of awards, but we haven't been able to get the rights.”
After a decade or so of wanting to produce Lizzie, McKelvey’s getting his chance this month when his version of the show runs at Austin Playhouse.
“I'm always intrigued by unique stories or good storytelling,” McKelvey says. “But the music doesn't always go with that. And this score was just so good. Every song in it just had so much vibrancy to it. I think the lyrics are witty. There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor within it, which is kind of funny to say for a story about Lizzie Borden. But I think… if you come out and see it, you'll kind of see that no one's really sure who committed the murders.”
A lot of people are pretty sure they do know who committed the Borden murders, but neither the musical nor the historical record isn’t 100% clear. “Most of us, we really do believe Lizzie Borden did it from the amount of evidence there was against her,” McKelvey says. “But also -- she was acquitted. So I think [the musical] definitely has some focal points of where we are turning the attention to who potentially did this thing. But we still leave it to the audience to decide.”
McKelvey says another reason he’s long wanted to produce Lizzie is because of the characters in the musical. “It's rare to find shows that have such good characters for women,” he says. “I mean, every character in the show is female. So that's fantastic. They're all real strong characters, so that's great too. And the women we have in the cast are just so… they're outstanding talents, but they're also wonderful people. So every rehearsal we go into, we have a really good time.”
McKelvey heaps praise on the entire cast – including Leslie Hollingworth, Libby Detling, Jess Workman, Maryanna Tollemache, and Madi Sipe – but seems particularly in awe of his lead performer. “Playing our main character, Lizzie Borden, is Stella Frye-Ginsburg, who just graduated from high school, believe it or not,” McKelvey says. “She's outstanding and she's gonna blow audiences away. And for being so young, she just has a really great insight and instincts into who this woman is. Plus a voice that will just go on for days. And it's hard to believe she's 18. But she's tearing it up.”