In the 20-years-and-change that Jobsite Theater has stalked the earth, few productions have approached the frenetic, kinetic energy of Shockheaded Peter, the Tampa company’s big Summer 2021 musical.
A pureed blend of Weimar cabaret, burlesque, vaudeville, A Clockwork Orange and Willy Wonka, Shockheaded Peter is based on a 19th century children’s book – a collection of cautionary tales about what can happen to kiddies if they don’t behave (really, really bad things).
The songs were composed by the 20th century British weirdo-pop trio Tiger Lillies.
Shockheaded Peter returns this week and next, with the original Jobsite cast, musicians and crew intact, for an abbreviated second run.
“It’s amazingly weird,” says actress Amy Gray, who plays the character known only as The Mother. “It’s up there among the oddest things I’ve ever done. And it’s very much in the oeuvre of Jobsite. We like the weird and macabre.”
As early as 2012, Jobsite performers – many of whom are in this production – started talking about Shockheaded Peter. However, artistic director David Jenkins insisted the company’s Straz Center home, the Shimberg Playhouse, was just too small to mount such a three-ring circus of a show.
If they were to take it on, it would have to be done in the next-door Jaeb Theatre, a much roomier place where they tend to take the bigger productions (i.e. Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, the ax-murdering Lizzie and the musical version of Silence of the Lambs).
“I think it all comes down to the vision of the director,” says Gray. “And David always saw it bigger and grander than what he thought would work in the Shimberg.”
Covid temporarily made the Shimberg impractical for a while – the audience needed to be spaced out – and so Jobsite took up semi-permanent residence in the larger venue for the 2021-22 season.
And Shockheaded Peter reared its ugly head. The time was right.
“We were coming out of the pandemic cocoon, and it was over half sold before we even opened,” Gray recalls. “So it was ‘It’s caught fire, and we just gotta ride this ride.’
“There were so many people, even people that I knew, who said ‘I wanted to come see it, but …’ Either they couldn’t get there in the summer, or they just didn’t feel comfortable going back into a theater yet.”
And Shockheaded Peter quickly became one of the best-selling shows in Jobsite history, so a return engagement seemed like a no-brainer.
But Dr. Ride’s American Beach House and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were already on the Jobsite schedule, as well as the Straz Center’s own re-mount of the Covid-postponed Shout! The Mod Musical.
Also preventing a quick return was the fact that Gray, despite her lengthy history with Jobsite, has resided in Colorado since 2014.
“I was booked from early August through Oct. 31,” she explains. “And as an actor, now that I can say I’m booked from August through March of 2022, that is a huge feat. As soon as I get back to Colorado, we have the holidays and then I’m back in rehearsal for another show.”
After the holidays, Jobsite will be begin rehearsals for its January show.
For now, though, the bizarro world of Shockheaded Peter is spinning once again on its curious axis. Cast, crew, aerialists and musicians, Gray reports, found themselves delightfully in sync after more than four months apart.
“We all surprised the heck out of ourselves at the first rehearsal, we only looked up and said ‘What’s next?’ a couple times,” she says.
“As soon as you’re on that roller coaster, you just keep going.”
Previews tonight and Wednesday; opening night is Friday. Runs through Dec. 4. Tickets here.