The greening of Shrek’s Eric Petersen


Kermit the Frog said it best: it’s not easy being green. It wasn’t easy for Elphaba the witch of Wicked. It wasn’t easy for the Grinch (of stealing Christmas fame). And it certainly isn’t easy for Shrek, the good-hearted ogre from the swamp.

As difficult as it is for Shrek, that’s nothing compared to the challenges facing Eric Petersen (above), the actor playing him on tour in Shrek The Musical, which opens this week at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season.

The method of converting the amiable Petersen, who was the standby for Shrek on Broadway, into a singing ogre takes about 90 minutes. It takes a village, as they say, and the finished Shrek is the work of Tim Hatley (Tony Award-winning costume and set designer), Naomi Donne (make-up design) and Michael Marino (prosthetic make-up design). You can see the finished product below (photo by Joan Marcus).

“It’s not so bad,” Petersen says on the phone from Denver. “I can go to a Zen place while it’s being done. Sometimes I can even sleep through half of the process.”

Watch Eric Petersen undergo a transformation that turns him from handsome actor to green ogre.

Previously, the closest Petersen had come to performing with much of his body and face obscured by a costume was a summer stock version of Cats some years ago.

The entire costume weighs about 45 pounds at the beginning of the show, and though much of the foam stuffing has been removed to give Petersen breathing and cooling room inside, the thing takes on an additional five pounds in sweat by the end of Act 1.

“This is definitely the most challenging thing I’ve done physically,” Petersen says. “We’ve got the routine down pretty well, but I’ll never get through a show and say, ‘Well, that was easy!’ But I’m happy to be playing Shrek and hope to be doing it for some time. But on two-show days, when I stay in make-up between shows, I think that whatever the next show is, it will be easier than this. Even if it’s King Lear it will be easier than this.”

Shrek The Musical.Cadillac Palace Theatre..

The touring Shrek is, by many accounts, a stronger show than the Broadway version. After the show closed in New York, the creative team, including directorsJason Moore and Rob Ashford, book writer/lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori all happily engaged in revising and improving the show.

Petersen was in the Broadway production (where he also played Papa Ogre and Straw Pig) and says rehearsing for the tour was like “working on a new show.” New songs, new lines and re-worked scenes made for an exciting process.

“As an actor, you want three things: you want to be working, you want to be working on stuff you’re proud of and you want to work on original material and feel like you’re being a creative influence,” he explains. “The Shrek tour wasn’t actually original, but it felt like we were working on something fresh and making it the best it could be. This show has taken some real steps forward since Broadway, and we’re all so proud of it.”

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 for information.

Eric Petersen, along with his Shrek The Musical co-star Haven Burton will perform with Debbie Gibson and Jason Brock for a one-night-only fundraising cabaret for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The show is at 8pm Dec. 13 at Theater 39 on Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. Tickets are $35-$65. Call 415 273-1620 or visit for information.

Shop Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS this World AIDS Day

Today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a sad anniversary but an important one. Would that we were celebrating the end of AIDS in the world, but we’re a long way away from that particular party.

There are many ways to give to AIDS research and AIDS prevention programs (especially in Africa).

For a complete list of giving opportunities, visit

For the theater lovers among us, you can support a worthy HIV/AIDS charity and do some holiday shopping for yourself and other theater geeks on your list.

The charity is Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, two groups that have been around 20-plus years that merged in 1992. BC/EFA runs an excellent Web store with theater-related gifts that are well worth checking out this season.

Here are some highlights of this year’s catalogue. To begin your charitable shopping, visit (and by the way, the online shop is open year-round). To ensure Christmas delivery, place your orders by Dec. 10.

  • 10th Anniversary Carols for a Cure – Each year, BC/EFA corrals the casts of all the Broadway musicals and gets them to record a holiday song – sometimes a classic, sometimes an original. This year’s anniversary edition features the casts of Billy Elliot, Spring Awakening, Xanadu, In the Heights, South Pacific and many more. This year’s compilation also includes the best of years past with tracks from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Antonio Banderas, Bernadette Peters and Idina Menzel. ($20)
  • Broadway Bares 2009 calendar – Every year, Broadway performers gather for a BC/EFA fundraiser that involves a whole lot of bare flesh – mostly tasteful and a whole lot of fun. This year’s calendar is based on last year’s Alice in Wonderland theme. ($20)
  • Broadway Monkey – No, not the star of Disney’s failed Tarzan musical, this plush toy comes complete with a bright red tie that declares his love for Broadway. ($35)
  • Broadway Cares Collection 2008 Serving Tray & Cocktail glasses – Every show queen’s dream – a serving tray and glasses featuring logos from all the shows of the 2008 Broadway season: Avenue Q, Billy Elliot, Chicago, Godspell (even though the economy prevented it from ever opening), Grease, Gypsy, Hairspray, In the Heights, Jersey Boys, Legally Blonde, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, Passing Strange, The Phantom of the Opera, Shrek the Musical, South Pacific, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, A Tale of Two Cities, [title of show], Wicked, Xanadu andYoung Frankenstein. ($40 glasses, $12 tray)

Carols for a Cure

During the recent Broadway strike, the AIDS fundraising charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS lost an estimated $40,000 a day without its holiday fund appeal, which usually happens during shows’ curtain calls. That makes the group’s annual holiday CD, “Broadway’s Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure 9” (Rock-It Science), all the more vital.

Companies from nearly all the Broadway musicals contribute songs for what amounts to a wonderfully entertaining, occasionally inspired two-disc collection.

The best of the bunch is the cast of Spring Awakening singing a stunning “What Child Is This?” And the cast of Mamma Mia! harmonizes beautifully through “My Gift.”

For comedy, there’s the cast members of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (most of whom starred in the San Francisco production) singing an original variation on of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

You can find the CD at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Web site here, where there are many other fine shopping opportunities, all of which help the group catch up to its fundraising goals.

Here are some suggestions:

The annual Broadway Bares calendar. The 2008 edition is “Myth Behavior.” $20

The annual Broadway Cares T-shirt featuring logos of 24 musicals on Broadway in 2007. $20.

I (heart) BC/EFA

Now that the Tony Awards are behind us, you don’t need to go through withdrawal. You can order your very own Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS official Tony T-shirt, which features the signatures (silk-screened) of all Tony Award nominees. See for yourself. It’s a gorgeous shirt.

Order the shirt here. It’s only $20 ($25 if you want the extra-extra-large), and it’s for a great cause. The BC/EFA credo: “Imagine, demand, and work for a cure.”

Now how do I know this shirt is spectacular? Because some kindly person sent me my very own (the right size and everything) with the following note:

“For you, the main dog. From one of your adoring theater pups. I woof you.”

Clever and sweet. I hope I’m not betraying a confidence in sharing the note, but it was so enjoyable I had to share it with other Theater Dogs.

The shirt also comes with a handy guide to the signatures. Some of them (Billy Crudup, David Gallo, Jack O’Brien, Orfeh, Swoosie Kurtz, Brian McDevitt, Eve Best and William Ivey Long we’re talking to you) are a little hard to decipher.

So thank you, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and thank you for the tremendous work you do.

For more info visit the BC/EFA Web site.

Seasonal sounds

Listening to some of this year’s holiday CD offerings, I can heartily recommend two so far.

“Cool Yule,” Bette Midler (Columbia)Divinity and Christmas are, of course, related, so it’s no wonder that the Divine Miss M. finally checks in with a Christmas album. The results are so good you have wonder, what took so long? Nevermind that this nice Jewish lady from Hawaii has recorded a Christmas album (Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond have recorded four Christmas albums between them). Midler brings her customary sass and humor to “Merry Christmas” and “Cool Yule” but lends her dramatic heft to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Don’t miss her “Mele Kalikimaka,” and though it sounds cheesy, her re-hash of “From a Distance (Christmas Version)” actually reveals that the heavy ballad was always meant to be a Christmas song. I know it sounds crazy, but the sap-happy “Distance” really works as a carol. No, really. It does.

For more Ms. M or to sample her Christmas fare, visit her Web site.

“Broadway’s Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure, Vol. 8,” Various Artists (Rock-It Science)
The casts from Broadway musicals — mostly the crop currently on the boards _ jazz up the holiday soundscape with a wildly varied and highly entertaining two-disc collection of tunes both new and old to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The ensemble from The Color Purple does gorgeous things with a medley of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” while more comic tunes come from The Wedding Singer (Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukah Song”), Avenue Q (“The Holi-daze”) and Altar Boyz (“Joseph’s Dilemma”).

My personal favorites are from the ever-bizarre Kiki and Herb warbling through “Like a Snowman” and the Rent cast doing “Angels We Have Heard on High” with Jonathan Larson’s melody for “Santa Fe” worked on. I also thoroughly enjoyed the gross, funny and sweet Christmas story from the [title of show] cast and the Spamalot holiday tale involving Brian, the man who isn’t Jesus from Monty Python‘s The Life of Brian.

You can purchase “Broadway’s Greatest Gift” and other fundraising items from BC/EFA here.

If you discover any not-to-be-missed holiday music, please let me and the other Theater Dogs know.