Shrek the Musical on tour
The DreamWorks creative team puts the Shrek magic on stage
Shrek the Musical was initiated when filmmaker Sam Mendes (American Beauty), a fan of the first Shrek film, suggested the idea of creating a musical to his friend, the head of DreamWorks Animation Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Shrek is a magical love story woven together in an unconventional way, with larger than life characters who have surprising layers to them. So Katzenberg thought it was a great idea to bring the story to the stage. “There is no more defining moment, story or character for us than Shrek,” he said.
That’s why Katzenberg greeted journalists at the DreamWorks headquarters saying, “Welcome to the house that Shrek built.” The media was there for a preview introducing some bits of the musical, and to get some insight on how the production was created.
DreamWorks Chief Creative Officer Bill Damaschke explained that transferring the film to the theater was a complex venture, requiring an original score, and an adaptation of the screenplay that would work on stage.
“Although the movie had music in it, it was not a musical. So we had to come up with reasons for the actors to burst into song. When Fiona was in the tower, how did she feel all those years? What about the dragon? These are the things we learn through the songs,” Damaschke told everyone. “The language of film is through the close-up. The language of the musical is through the songs.”
Based on the first chapter of the Shrek movie franchise, Damaschke describes Shrek the Musical as the story of a swamp-dwelling ogre who goes on a life-changing adventure to reclaim the deed to his land. Joined by a wise-cracking donkey, the unlikely hero fights a dragon, rescues a princess, and learns that friendship and true love aren’t only found in fairy tales.
The show played Broadway for over a year, then toured London and several American cities. It delighted kids and adult audiences, since it is entertainment for all generations. Now Shrek, the product of DreamWorks Studios in Glendale, has come home to Southern California, to play the San Diego Civic Theatre July 5 to 10, and at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood from July 12 to 31.
Another thing the DreamWorks Theatricals production can be proud of is recreating all the storybook characters that populated the movie, such as the Gingerbreadman, “and we had to create a 40-foot dragon, among other props that would bring the fantasy story to life,” Damaschke said. “There were lots of challenges.”
Eric Petersen who plays Shrek was on hand and sang “Who I Be?” It was humorous as well as heartfelt, and just one of the great original songs from the musical.
It’s Petersen as the grumpy green ogre who goes on an incredible journey and meets his soul mate. And he said his goal is to make it ring true for the audience of kids and adults. “There are pop culture references and inside jokes for everyone to enjoy,” he said.
The moment in the show Petersen enjoys most is “when Donkey tells Shrek that he’s got to stop Fiona from getting married. And Shrek has that Graduate-type moment where he cries out ‘Stop the wedding.’ Then he sings ‘Big Bright Beautiful World,’ to let Fiona know that he loves her, and he’s ready to tear down the wall that he’s built up his whole life, just to be with her.”
That’s a goosebump-moment for the audience “if I do my job right,” Petersen said.
Also at Dreamworks to describe the details that went into the musical production, was Guillaume Aretos, the acclaimed production designer from the Shrek movies. He said, “On stage the poetry of the story takes over. You are in the world of the fairy tale.” He talked about the difference in working on colors, costumes and choreography, transferring the magic from film to stage. “The challenge in theater is that you have humans in costumes. That is way tougher [than animation] because they have [the performer] be alive at the end of the show.”
Petersen will be in a 45-pound green suit made of foam and latex, and there’s a lengthy makeup process before the show to turn him into the Shrek character based on the children’s story by William Steig.
Now Shrek the Musical features book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire, with music by Olivier Award-winner Jeanine Tesori, and directed by Tony Award nominee Jason Moore. It is from Neal Street Productions and DreamWorks Theatricals, being DWA’s first venture in legitimate theater.