An ogre sings: the creation of Shrek

Nov 14

Shrek The Musical.Cadillac Palace Theatre..
Eric Petersen is Shrek, Alan Mingo Jr. is Donkey and Haven Burton is Princess Fiona in the touring production of Shrek The Musical. Photo by Joan Marcus

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, I write about how Shrek, the hit series of animated films, became a Broadway musical and how that musical has actually improved – according to the creative team – in its transition to a touring show.

Read the story here.

There wasn’t room in the story for all the fantastic quotes from all the key players involved, so here are, in essence the “DVD extras.”

The creative team that turned Shrek into a Broadway musical is about as A-list as it gets in the commercial theater world. Here are the team members’ thoughts on making an ogre sing.

Book writer and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire on the appeal of Shrek:
“At the heart of this show is somebody who feels he’s one thing and is perceived to be something else. I think we all feel like that to some degree. Here’s a beastly, monstrous ogre who feels he could be a romantic hero if only people knew. And there’s a pretty, polite princess who on the inside is a farting, belching ogress. Through the course of the story, all the characters embrace their essence rather than whatever’s on the outside. It makes them happier and allows them to find happiness and love. This is a universal story. It has pre-dated us all.”

Composer Jeanine Tesori on creating the sound of “Shrek”:
“The movie had an eclectic, drop-the-needle score that included ‘I’m a Believer’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ That just worked. I tried to do the same thing but with a musical theater sound. For the character of Shrek the feel is a little Celtic, which also feels like the sound of adventure. Then there’s some R&B and pop for Princess Fiona. I aimed for a Hi-Los sound for the fairy tale characters, but that was just too many ideas on one page.”

Co-director Rob Ashford on being described by his creative team as “unflappable”:
“I always tell my friends and associates, ‘We’re living the dream.’ We couldn’t’ be luckier to work in musical theater. I consider every obstacle a challenge. I was a dancer for a dozen years in Broadway shows and have such respect for the form. I feel blessed I get to work on the scale I do. To me this is a game that really matters, and I love the challenge of it.”

Co-director Jason Moore on turning a successful movie franchise into a mega-musical:
“It’s impossible to do this, but you have to try and forget the movie and focus on the guts of the story. It’s full of heart, full of comedy. All great musicals go for one or the other. The kind of writers David and Jeanine are, they want to mine some of the emotion while still delivering comedy and spectacle. They were such a quick, facile team – one of the most amazing teams I’ve worked with.”

Co-director Rob Ashford on his favorite moment in Shrek The Musical:
“It’s at the end of Act 1 when Shrek sings ‘That’s Who I’d Be.” What’s so amazing about that moment is that he was just a hero. He saved the princess from the dragon, and he can’t even see that he was a hero. There’s something so moving about that to me. It’s such a beautiful song, and there’s something about people not seeing the truth of themselves and needing to. It’s a moment that’s so well written, so well rendered.”

Book writer and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire on that same moment:
“I am incredibly proud of ‘That’s Who I’d Be.’ It’s a wonderful song, and I say that with all humility. We had to fight to keep it in the show. It’s a great moment for Shrek to open up his heart and let us hear what he’s longing for. It’s the purest moment of just me and Jeanine. That song, that moment didn’t exist before. It’s all us.”

VIDEO EXTRA:Here’s the original Shrek, Brian D’Arcy James, singing “Who I’d Be” on the Today show.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Shrek The Musical runs Dec. 1-Jan. 2 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com for information.

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