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.”
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.”
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.
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 www.helpisontheway.org for information.