|Ashley Diane, Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Samantha Barrios, Keith Allan, Kristyn Evelyn and Cj Merriman | Jessica Sherman
Sacred Fools Theater Company's world premiere of Deadly, a new musical by playwright/lyricist Vanessa Claire Stewart and directed by Jaime Robledo, is about the victims of notorious serial killer H. H. Holmes.
In the author's note printed in the program, Stewart writes about discovering H. H. Holmes' story (via "binge-watching the History Channel"). Though the gruesome details of his killings were enthusiastically offered up, "the victims and their stories vanish[ed] into the ether."
So Stewart set out to create a show that focused on the stories of the women gone too soon at the hands of Holmes. And she did just that.
Deadly is so clearly written by a woman. The entire production is littered with empathy–it can be found in the smallest of nooks and crannies. The script does not just tell the story of a serial killer and why he did what he did and how he did what he did, it tells the story of some of the early cries of feminism, sisterhood, and motherhood.
Penned over the course of six years, Stewart says the script has changed quite a bit since its first draft to reflect our ever-changing society, especially with the development of the #metoo movement.
One of Holmes' first lines involves him telling the detective interviewing him that men of a certain stature can get away with anything–he didn't have to say "grab them by the pussy" for the audience to shudder with familiarity.
Keith Allan (H. H. Holmes) is fantastic. He is charming enough to get away with murder, and twisted enough for the audience to believe he's capable of it.
Brittney S. Wheeler as Lizzie Sommers, the first victim of Holmes in the story, was another particular standout. As the first, her ghost suffered through the task of having to watch Holmes kill every woman (and child) after her. The show is ripe with empathy, and much of it comes from Wheeler.
I had the pleasure of watching David LM McIntyre in the role of Benjamin Pitezel (also played by French Stewart), Holmes' personal handyman. McIntyre somehow elicits sympathy from the audience, and with ease, despite assisting Holmes in his murderous deeds. McIntyre played Benjamin Pitezel sweetly, with care and integrity.
Thank God for the comedic breath of fresh air that is Minnie Williams (Samantha Barrios). Barrios is funny and perfectly bright-eyed.
The cast, collectively, is extremely talented and truthful. It was evident that each performer believed in the story they were telling.
The costumes by Linda Muggeridge, set by Stephen Gifford, lighting design by Andrew Schmedake, sound design by Cricket S. Meyers, projection by Corwin Evans, props by Brandon Clark, and hair and makeup by Kat Bardot perfectly transport us to 1893 Chicago at the ghastly scene of the crimes.
Robledo's inventive methods of showcasing each murder were more than impressive. On stage, we witness death by poison, gas, fire, hanging, stabbing, and strangulation. They were all performed artfully.
The music, by Ryan Johnson, helps to create the ominous ambiance. I preferred the songs of Act II, where it feels the musical momentum really builds, to the songs of Act I. But I very much enjoyed the crowd-pleaser "When I Think of Him."
Despite being filled with talented performers and plenty of thrilling action, the show does, at times, feel long. Perhaps that's just the nature of a tale consisting of one brutally violent murder after another.
Deadly is a show about remembering victims. Overall, the message is this: If we come together, victims and allies, and speak in one cohesive, loud voice, we can stop horrendous acts of violence from happening in the future.
Deadly is playing through November 2 on the Main Stage at the Broadwater Theater Complex, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and one performance on Monday, October 21 at 8 pm. You can purchase tickets here.