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No questions axed: Colleen Cherry is Jobsite’s ‘Lizzie’

Bill DeYoung

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Colleen Cherry is Lizzie Borden in the rocking "Lizzie: The Musical,' opening this week at Jobsite Theater. Images: Stage Photography of Tampa.

The question is not, did she do it? Did Lizzie Borden take an axe and give her mother 40 whacks?

In Lizzie: The Musical, a rock ‘n’ roll re-telling of one of the country’s most notorious murder cases, the audience understands that yes, despite her eventual acquittal, Lizzie Borden was the axe-wielder.

When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

Colleen Cherry has the title role in the Jobsite Theatre production opening this week. “There’s no question about whether she did it or not – but was she justified?” the singer/actress reports. “That’s up to the audience to decide.”

The four-woman cast, accompanied by a small rock combo, tells the story of the horrific 1892 event, in Fall River, Massachusetts, through story and (mostly) song. Heather Krueger plays Emma Borden, Lizzie’s sister, with Katherine Yacko as housekeeper Bridget Sullivan and Kandyce Walker as Borden neighbor Alice Russell.

The “justification” comes in the form of a lot of historical speculation turned into dramatic devices. “The play is playing off a lot of the different theories of the murder case that have come out,” explains Cherry. “Some of them make for great staging, but maybe necessarily didn’t happen. One of the main ones being that the father molested her. There’s really no proof that ever happened – but my first song in the show – ‘This is Not Love’ – that’s what I’m singing about.”

Theories have appeared based solely around the few known facts about Lizzie Borden – that she never married, for example, and that even after the acquittal she remained in Fall River. “She had parties with actors and musicians, and trash of that sort,” Cherry laughs.

The women tear through the songs – from aggressive and rafter-raising to attitudinal and … well, slightly less so. Lizzie is a high-octane thrill ride of a show. Self-descriptive titles includes “The House of Borden,” “Mercury Rising,” “Forty Whacks,” “Why Are All These Heads Off?” and even “What the F#%k Now, Lizzie?”

Performing these songs, Cherry says, is an “emotional roller coaster. I’m hitting notes where I’m like ‘How did that come out of my body?’ I’m possessed by a rock ‘n’ roll demon. There’s a lot of different styles in there, a lot of awesome ‘girl rock,’ lots of different influences.

“And the story itself is pretty rock ‘n’ roll. She became a rock star in her day, because the press was obsessed with her when it happened. She was making headlines around the world – ‘How could a woman do this?!’”

The women begin the show in period Victorian clothing, which – as time passes and emotions heat up – give way to spiky heels and dominatrix leather. “It’s exhausting in the best way,” Cherry says.

Lizzie holds a special place in Colleen Cherry’s heart – she played Lizzie in Jobsite’s first production of the show, over the 2016 Halloween season.

It was the very first leading role for the St. Petersburg performer, who’d been in the ensemble of another Jobsite musical earlier that year. “Once I read the script, once I heard the songs, I knew I had to be in it,” she says. “‘I hope I can prove to someone that I can be a lead and carry a show,’ but that was my role and I went gunning for it.”

The audition went great, but at her callback she saw “so many awesome and fierce performers, I thought ‘Aw, there’s no way I’m gonna get this.’”

But she killed (figuratively), and triumphed in the role, subsequently becoming one of the company’s most reliable, and well-loved, musical theater performers. Most recently, she had major roles in Shockheaded Peter (both productions) and Jobsite’s Alice.

She also struck up an airtight friendship with Jeremy Douglass, musical director for Lizzie both then and now. Cherry is a charter member of Douglass’ bay area musical supergroup the Florida Bjorkestra.

Back in ’16, she reflects, “I was kind of trying to prove myself – and now it’s nice to relax a little and think ‘Yeah, I got this.’”

She lets out a self-deprecating laugh. “I’m a ROCK STAR.’”

Lizzie: The Musical opens Friday and runs through Aug. 6 in the Shimberg Playhouse, Straz Center for the Performing Arts. There are preview performances tonight and Thursday. Find ticket information here.

From left Katherine Yacko, Colleen Cherry, Heather Krueger and Kandyce Walker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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