Review: Lizzie (Greenwich Theatre)

Based on a true story, rock musical ”Lizzie” gets its UK premiere following a run in Denmark

Collectors of jaw droppingly eccentric theatrical camp should get themselves down to Greenwich with all due haste, where this bizarre American-Danish confection is currently deafening unsuspecting audiences.

I love a good rock musical and so, I suspect, do Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner who had the original concept – and wrote the lyrics for – this musicalisation of the infamous real-life tale of Lizzie Borden, tried but acquitted for the axe murder of her father and stepmother in rural Massachusetts in 1892. There are shades of Spring Awakening in the first half which juxtaposes period costumes with wailing electric guitars and thunderous drums: during the interval the cast of four don more flamboyant gear and makeup, for reasons not entirely clear. Meanwhile the confessional-cum-concert feel of the presentation – such staging as there is tends to be predominantly of the park-and-bark variety – recalls Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

After her acquittal and on the back of her notoriety, the musical Ms Borden – in a commendably committed, vocal chord-shredding performance by Bjørg Gamst – appears, à la Chicago's Roxie Hart, to embark on a showbiz career. That's represented as some sort of demented Vegas-style club act but with extra rock'n'roll-esque screeching and bawling. At least I think that's what director Victoria Bussert is going for but frankly it's hard to know what the hell was going on.

Cheslik-Demeyer, along with Alan Stevens-Hewitt, has created a bombastic, moderately tuneful rock score that probably works better on CD than live – many of the songs end abruptly, suggesting that they were expecting to be faded out by a recording engineer – but the amplification means that the lyrics are frequently unintelligible. Given some of the song titles – "Why Are All These Heads Off?", "Somebody Will Do Something", "What The Fuck Now Lizzie?" – that may not be an altogether bad thing. My personal favourite was "Gotta Get Out Of Here", a sentiment I was sharing long before the show's earsplitting conclusion. The overall impression is of an exhausting, slightly inept alliance between an all-female death metal band and the Eurovision Song Contest.

On the upside, the six-strong band sounds terrific and the four women have extraordinary voices. As well as the aforementioned Ganst, Bleu Woodward does sterling work as Lizzie's best friend and improbable love interest, while Jodie Jacobs sings up a storm as the all-seeing family maid, despite a wavering accent and being saddled with some woefully unfunny comedy shtick, plus – for reasons I couldn't quite fathom – being dressed up like a comedy dominatrix for the second half.

The only performer who really rises above the material is Broadway's Eden Espinosa, best known to musical theatre aficionados as a beloved Elphaba replacement and the final Maureen in the original Rent, in the role of the severe older Borden sister. Possessing a genuinely thrilling skyscraping belt and the presence of an authentic rock diva, she commands the stage, and one can only hope that she returns to London again soon in a piece more worthy of her talents.

Lizzie runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 12 March 2017.