Freaks, ogres and lowered expectations

Dec 02

Freaks, ogres and lowered expectations

I wanted to love Shrek The Musical because it’s an unlikely underdog. I didn't love it.

Here you have a big Hollywood studio, DreamWorks, with a hit movie franchise (that, by the way, they pretty much ran into the ground) making its first foray onto Broadway – hoping for the success Disney had with The Lion King and Mary Poppins or that Universal had with Wicked.

So DreamWorks did what any big Hollywood studio would do in this situation: they threw money at some of the most talented people on Broadway and said, “Make us a hit.” One of the first people at whom they hurled money was Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who then hurled money at Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole).

At this point, Shrek appears to be the opposite of an underdog: a highly capitalized movie studio willing to spend whatever it takes to play with the lions and the witches on Broadway.

But money and talent don’t always add up to success. Shrek The Musical began previews at The Broadway Theatre in November of 2008 and closed a little more than a year later.

The Shrek now on display at the Orpehum Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series is an underdog because, aside from the (very happy) kids in the audience, no one expects much from this show. And with those lowered expectations, Shrek is enjoyable.

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The greening of Shrek’s Eric Petersen

Nov 29

The greening of <i>Shrek’s</i> 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).

“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.”

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An ogre sings: the creation of Shrek

Nov 14

An ogre sings: the creation of <i>Shrek</i>

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."

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