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Review: SHOCKHEADED PETER MARVELS IN THE STRANGE AND WEIRD WITH JOBSITE THEATER at Straz Center For Performing Arts

Jobsite creates a strange, twisted world that has to be seen to be believed and its devilishly good!

Review:  SHOCKHEADED PETER MARVELS IN THE STRANGE AND WEIRD WITH JOBSITE THEATER at Straz Center For Performing Arts

"WHAT BECOMES OF A CHILD THAT STARVED FOR AFFECTION?"

-M.C. IN SHOCKHEADED PETER

"YOU'VE GOT TO BE CRUEL TO BE KIND, IN THE RIGHT MEASURE. CRUEL TO BE KIND, IT'S A VERY GOOD SIGN...."

-NICK LOWE FROM "JESUS OF COOL" ALBUM (1978).

Once every so often audiences of a theatre-going persuasion are treated to something a little out of the ordinary. Something that may just have to be experienced before allowing it to fully sink in. Jobsite revels in the strange, the unorthodox, the Masterclass of all things twisted and warped; and these are some centralized moments of Shockheaded Peter or its namesake Der Struwwelpeter.

Having personally never heard of Der Struwwelpeter or William Maloney's The Worst of Everything, I had no idea what I was in store for. Which made this particular show more zany, exciting, and mentally stimulating than most seen as of late. From every angle, there was something to watch, something to leave our mouths agape and make you just think what the hell?

Der Struwwelpeter was voted the "Worst Children's Book" destined to give all of its readers of the younger persuasion nightmares that wouldn't quit. Considered a precursor to comic books, the book was written as a reaction to, "the lack of good books for children." In 1891, Mark Twain wrote his own translation entitled, "Slovenly Peter" but it was not published until 1935 due to copyright issues.

Artistic Director David Jenkins throws everything and the kitchen sink into this bizarre twisted tale and it works on every level. Chocked full of dismemberment, aerial silk work, puppets of grandeur, and just enough spooky to chill you to the core. This is Jobsite Theater at its finest. Jam-packed with all that makes Jobsite great, and you feel that they have taken anecdotes from different shows and molded them together to create this bizarre strange universe that Jobsite fans have come to know and love, and the audience is eating it up hook, line, and sinker. This may very well be the hardest ticket in town to get a hold of since Hamilton graced the Straz Center a few years back.

With the world inept with all the politics, news media, and down-right craziness that has surrounded the last year and a half its a nice break even for a short 80 minutes to break away from reality and just see something so far out of normalcy, that it is almost a sigh of welcomed relief. This is just what Shockheaded Peter achieves, "a warped mental mind-**** of insane proportions."

Made up of 10 uniquely bizarre and terrifying tales Der Struwwelpeter is a challenging piece, because it challenges the mind and makes you think, "How much crazier can this get," then as if Shockheaded Peter himself has heard your deepest, most inner thoughts the story nose dives down an even stranger rabbit hole. It's like the minds behind Cabaret, Pippin, Hedwig, Tommy, and Repo got together and wrote children's tales straight out of hell.

The cast of oddities delivers ten-fold and this may be one of the strongest assembled ensembles to date. Paul Potenza marvels as the M.C., he's creepy, and funny all at the same time. He tells the tales of creepy lore and commands the stage as he lets the audience know, "Such things are not for the incontinent." Implementing such improvised moments about Jobsite Company members Giles Davies and poking fun he bounds across the stage and makes this world his playground. Wearing many different hats in this production including joining the band to play guitar Potenza is truly in his element. I think a one-man show where he comprises roles from Cabaret, Pippin, and other iconic Broadway storytellers would be a sell-out of epic proportions.

The Siren, Spencer Meyers has vocal chops that soar high and above that of the Jaeb Theater. He leads the spooky tales through song and each time ups the ante. From songs like, "Nasty Soup," "Bully Boys," and "Fidgety Phil," Meyer's voice is clandestine. Painted like a creepy clown and reminiscent of a Pagliacci-type Puddles Pity Party we hang on every word. Spencer if Post Modern Jukebox calls, make sure to take that call as this could be a music video that would marvel.

Colleen Cherry was wonderful as multiple characters including the Puppetmaster. Having last seen Ms. Cherry's work in Jobsite's LIZZIE her command of the stage here is no different. Almost like a macabre version of Bo-Peep meets Annabelle, Raggedy Anne, and the Bakers Wife in Into the Woods her performance is one you cannot help but wait to see where she goes next. Her vocals towards the end are glass-shattering and beautifully executed in every way. Colleen is always a joy to watch onstage.

Amy Gray and Jonathan Harrison are eerie, creepy, and strange in all the right way. Gray's Mother/Weeping Woman is a combination of The Woman in Black, and The Nun from The Conjuring Franchise. Creepy enough to turn your stomach and make you want more. When she dons the same hands as Shockheaded Peter her reaction is spot-on and devilishly good. Harrison's Father/Pickled Man/Hunter is wonderfully displayed. From the dance sequence to teasing the women, to his beautiful singing voice in "Flying Robert" with Gray was something that needs to be heard and I could listen to this duet on repeat, it is haunting in all the right moments, and both of these performers should be commended for the beautiful work displayed here.

The aerialist Katrina Stevenson and Kasondra Rose dazzle high above the audience. This is one feature that makes this production truly magical. Unlike in the Shimberg in which Aerialist's work from A Midsummer Night's Dream stunned on every level, it's a different feat of grandeur when you see it happen in a space such as the Jaeb. With the height of the ceiling and the ability to have these breathtaking Aerial silk works, it's truly magical. "Flying Robert" has to be seen to believe it's that damn beautiful. Kasondra and Katrina should be commended for the athleticism and sheer beauty that it takes to produce this type of work. It is magical to watch all the twisting, turning and spinning and it adds yet another layer to the already insanely fabulous production. Jobsite has pulled out all the stops here, and it's a marvel.

David Jenkin's direction and keen artistic vision propel the motion of this show forward at full speed and though busy it is pleasing to the eye, downright demented and it works on every level. Jobsite continually raises the bar of spectacle and this is no exception, with their ability to take weird and make it work; David and company should be exceptionally proud of their work here. When Shockheaded Peter is revealed I imagined a Chucky Doll and Edward Scissorhands love-child. The demented cacophony this show brings is so fine-tuned and so marvelously put together it's a beauty to uphold.

Technically sound this production has it all. Brian Smallheer's set is a demented funhouse with a mix of Tales of Lore such as The Woman in Black mixed with something from American Horror Story. Jo Averill-Snell's lighting concept works to accent the eerieness of the piece and aids the set concept to a top-notch spectacle. The sound design works and makes it just as spine-tingling and eerie at each sound. The costumes designed beautifully by Katrina Stevenson are elegant and creepy, and drool-worthy. A mix of Steam Punk and Macabre, with a splash of Circus, makes this a beautifully designed piece that jumps off the stage at every turn.

The Puppets deserve their own standing ovation here. The rabbit heads and pin-cushion little boy, and a GIGANTIC stork make for some bizarre spectacles. The Cast and Band done up in a White-Clown face paint add to the demented nature of sorts. It's almost as if Rob Zombie wrote a musical and had a love-child with Avenue Q and Sesame Street. Zombie's Devil's Rejects and 3 come to mind, and it's a mind-**** that just works.

Jeremy Douglass, Mark Warren, and Elwood Bond make up the three-piece minstrel-macabre of sorts and are just as much a part of the story as the cast of characters making up the show. It's as if Potenza's M.C. wanted to form a band of misfits that were to accompany a sideshow act, and I for one would buy tickets to see this again and again.

Going in not knowing a thing about Der Struwwelpeter or aptly named Shockheaded Peter allowed me to be shocked, creeped out, and highly entertained throughout the swiftly staged 80-minute macabre circus that was and is the production. Theatre is breaking new grounds in Tampa right now after most COVID statutes have been lifted and this show needs to be seen to be believed. COVID-protocols at the Straz are still following guidelines and safety is never an issue as they always make every guest feel comfortable in the environment. For me, it's a beautiful thing to see Theatre alive and happening again with productions from Stageworks, and Tampa Rep in addition to Jobsite paving the way and breaking new ground in this current climate we are living in. It is even more refreshing to see Audiences coming out in droves to bear witness to the beautiful work that some of the finest performers of our area are producing. If you can snatch a ticket to Shockheaded Peter, I implore you to check out this macabre spectacle for yourself. Even several days after I still marvel at the fine work created here. Jobsite and Company continue to up the ante on live performance and Shockheaded Peter might just be their most bizarre yet finest work to date, it doesn't get any weirder or any better than Shockheaded Peter.

Shockheaded Peter is onstage at The Straz Center's Jaeb Theater with Socially-Distanced Protocols in place through July 3rd. Act quickly because tickets won't last long for this truly remarkable, strange, and down-right odd spectacle that is selling out! Tickets available by visiting strazcenter.org, or jobsitetheatre.org.

PHOTO CREDIT: JAMES ZAMBON



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From This Author - Drew Eberhard