TAMPA— Every summer until this one, Colleen Cherry greeted fans at Tampa Bay Rays games with a smile and an invitation.
Would your kids like to see their own picture on a baseball card? How about a photo at the batting cage? She had been working for the Tampa Bay Rays since graduating from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High.
Now, she's moving into a decidedly spookier and bigger role. Cherry, 27, is playing the title role in Lizzie, Jobsite Theater's rock musical about accused ax murderer Lizzie Borden, which opens tonight. It's the largest role to date for the classically trained soprano. Jobsite, which normally uses the Shimberg Playhouse at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, will do this one in the larger Jaeb Theater. Cherry sang in last year's musical in the Jaeb as well, as a member of the lambs' chorus in Silence! The Musical. It's been an adjustment, seeing her face on billboards on I-275, a marketing amenity kicked in by the Straz.
She was driving home from her job as an administrative assistant at American Stage Theatre Company when Jobsite artistic director David Jenkins, who is also directing Lizzie, called to offer her the part.
"I screamed and cried," she said. "It's a complete dream come true. This is totally in my wheelhouse and everything I've ever wanted in a musical."
The show, created by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, has been around since 1990. It's mostly music, 28 songs with a driving punk rock beat.
"I always say that I'm not the biggest fan of musicals on the face of the planet, and I think that's largely true," Jenkins said. "But if I keep directing these musicals, I guess I'm going to have to stop saying that."
Jenkins began looking months ago for a six-piece band that could carry the load of supporting four women in roles that swell to bursting with suppressed power. Lizzie isn't so much about the 1892 murders of her father and stepmother, which take place offstage, but a climate of sexual abuse that precedes them. That is a layer added by the authors, but one that serves a broader narrative of women claiming their feelings, including their rage. The other three, Fo'i Meleah, Heather Krueger and Christina Capehart, are also strong singers, Jenkins said.
With the help of guitarist Mark Warren, who has played with Barely Pink, the Vodkanauts and the Sara Rose Band, he found his crew, which includes singer-songwriter Rebekah Pulley and cellist Tom Kersey.
"It's girl power," Cherry said. "Four strong women start out in Victorian garb. Eventually there are moments where each character whips off a skirt, and they have fishnets or leather or something underneath."
By the second act, she said, "We're all in our full rock and roll, punk rock regalia. Breaking a glass ceiling."
The text sympathizes with Borden, who was acquitted. Getting audiences to do the same is part of its genius, Jenkins said.
"You find yourself sort of rooting for this ax murderess, right?" Jenkins said. "Is it completely historically accurate? No, but neither was Hamilton."
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.