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"Lizzie" Stars Sing Off Their Heads in Portland Production of Ax Murderer

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Regional Musicals

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My weekend to Portland ends with two shows that may not be the most fitting for Father's Day or Portland Gay Pride, but nonetheless worth checking out.

I was reminded by a friend that it was kind of odd seeing "Lizzie," the rock musical, on Father's Day as she certainly didn't give her father a warm and fuzzy greeting card. And while I am not a father, I certainly felt that the Portland Center Stage gave me a true gift in the form of excellent entertainment thanks to the amazing cast of the macabre musical about Lizzie Borden.

Our cast of four strong women, lead by Mary Kate Morrissey, tell us a story full of facts and history while blowing the roof off the theatre with powerful vocals of memorable and rich songs from a trio of writers I never heard of: Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Steven Hewitt.

For those who expect darkness "light" such as a "Phantom of the Opera" should not go to "Lizzie" in that mind set as the songs kick ass and is closer and edgier to a "Rent" or "Spring Awakening."

Rose Riordan's direction focuses on the talent that is the stars and relies on minimal sets and few costume changes to tell the tale of how Lizzie Borden killer her father and stepmother. Aside from the great and amazing ax scene, the show does not rely on theatrics to move the story forward, but rather focuses on performance and lyrics.

Song-wise, the show is filled with memorable numbers that might stick with me for some time to come. Several years in the making and several productions worldwide, "Lizzie" has found a great cast in the Portland production. Morrissey makes you feel every emotion as she belts out some of Lizzie's deeper feelings, including her sexual interest in the neighbor Alice Russell, brought back to life by Kacie Sheik.

Lizzie's sister Emma is played by Leslie McDonel, whose strong voice and presence actually make you miss her whenever she's off stage. The Borden's maid, played by Carrie Cimma (who was an award nominee when the show played Off-Broadway in 2010) has mastered great timing and delivery and adds many of the shows lighter moments.

If I were to change anything about the show (other than the couple who wouldn't stop talking sitting next to me) would be the use of microphones. I wouldn't care if the actors used microphones, but I don't understand why sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

But other than that, this is truly a great Father's Day present should you like life on the dark side.

PCS has a second theatre under the same roof and that is the Ellen Bye Studio, which is showing "The Last Five Years," a minimalist musical that has played internationally and is on its way to be a movie with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.

While a show with just two characters and one piano, "Five" isn't your traditional love story - even though it tells of a couple's five year relationship. Sure we hear songs of new love, ending relationships and everything in between. But the edge to this tale is our male character Jamie is singing of love in chronological order while his beloved Cathy's version of the same story is told in reverse.

So the first scene of the musical shows Jamie at the beginning of their relationship and at the same time shows Cathy at the end five years later. The two characters, well played by Drew Harper and Meredith Kaye Clark, actually are on stage a lot at the same time but really only have one scene together - the middle of their time together which is their wedding.

Jason Robert Brown's book and songs show what a real talent he is and also reminds us of what he has become over the years, including recent Tony Award winner for "Bridges of Madison County."

I've seen this show in various incarnations and to be honest it's a good show but not my all time favorite. It was nice to see in the intimate PCS Studio, but it does seem that the acoustics down in the basement theatre are not on par with the main stage.

All-in-all, two diverse shows help end the season strong at the Portland Center Stage. Get tickets and more information at www.pcs.org.

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