Dizzy Miss. Lizzie

15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue

Back in 2008, Debra Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams – the founders of Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue –  had the urge to make the sort of rock’n’roll musical theatre they wanted to hear.

“I still remember talking about trying to bring rock music back into theater the way it was in the late 60s and early 70s,” says McWilliams. “Real rock music. We were kind of getting tired of hearing people say, ‘Oh, this is a rock musical” – but the music didn’t rock.”

The piece they settled on writing together was a raucous remake of Aeschylus’ trio of tragedies, The Oresteia, bringing a tuneful circus vibe to interpret the bloody classical mayhem. “There were conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Buonaccorsi recalls. “The themes of unjust war and constant vengeance seeking – and how that’s so destructive.”

When the newly-minted team finished The Oresteia (with seed money from Spooky Action Theatre Company), they were eager to get it front of audiences. So why Capital Fringe in 2008?

“Julianne [Brienza, founder of Capital Fringe] was the only one giving people a chance to do this sort of thing,” says Buonaccorsi.

McWilliams chimes in: “We were two newbies to this kind of thing. Fringe was the place where you could do something totally untested, and then discover: ‘Yes, that works.’”

The Oresteia was also one of the first shows to find its feet in the legendary Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar. The Dizzy Miss Lizzie team thrived in a summer hothouse packed with eager local theatregoers sweating along with the performers.

“It was so hot,” quips McWilliams. “But there was beer nearby. And it was so loud, but we were loud.”

Buonaccorsi recalls that “the first night we did the show in the tent, it was freaking packed. I mean overpacked. There were people falling out. And we were like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was so raucous and so much fun. I remember coming off stage that night at the end of the show thinking: ‘I have never had an experience like that.’”

“That’s pretty much it,” McWilliams adds. “It was pretty magical.”

Not that the Dizzy Miss Lizzie magic wasn’t rough at times. Performing outdoors in the heat is never easy. Yet Buonaccorsi and McWilliams speak fondly of overcoming quick load-in and load-out turnarounds, sound snafus, the ambient noise of emergency vehicles, and even some unwanted attention from a restaurant next door.

“There were the guys looking down from the roofs at the girls getting changed,” Buonaccorsi remembers. “On the roof what whatever it was… that restaurant…”

“The guys on the roof of Marrakesh,” says McWilliams. “Watching the costume change.”

McWilliams also recalls the moment that they knew The Oresteia was a hit. “I open the [Washington] Times and, literally, it’s a full-page picture of us… I called [Buonaccorsi] up. She goes: ‘I bet they hated it.’ Yeah, they hated it. They hated it so much they put our picture on a whole page.”

Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue debuted three more shows at Capital Fringe: Saints (2009); Finn McCool (2010); and The Brontes (2012). In 2014, Buonaccorsi and McWilliams moved to Nashville to pursue a career as performing songwriters as The TrueHearts – releasing three records of folk-and-country-influenced rock.

Twelve years on, how did the writing and performing at Capital Fringe get The TrueHearts beating in time?

The Oresteia started our whole writing partnership together,” says McWilliams.

Buonaccorsi says Capital Fringe also helped the duo refine their partnership: “Having the opportunity, with friends, to really experiment and find our style and our voice has informed everything we’ve done.”