By Natalie Pompilio
“Shrek The Musical” centers on two ogres finding love in a fairy-tale land populated by a wisecracking donkey, a flirtatious dragon and a know-it-all gingerbread cookie.
And yet the story has a deeper message, with special appeal to the more than 50 actors — ages 7 to 21 — who are part of the Mayo Performing Arts Center‘s production.
“‘Shrek’ is about accepting people for who they are, for tolerance, inclusion and not judging a book by its cover,” said Cathy Roy, Mayo’s director of education and the director of his show. “We felt it was timely to do something like this. … The show gets is message across with a lot of heart and humor.”
The musical — which ran for more than a year on Broadway and was nominated for eight Tony Awards — is Mayo’s 6th annual spring production, with four performances scheduled June 1 through 3. As with past shows, the cast includes professional actors, as well as young people who are part of Mayo’s Performing Arts School, which serves more than 600 students annually.
“Our shows get a little bit bigger each year,” Roy said. “What makes us really proud is I don’t think people really look at it like it’s a youth musical. It’s a high-caliber, professional quality show, with a 16-piece professional orchestra, sets and puppets from California and a cast that really steps up. … It’s great to give our kids this experience.”
For those who missed William Steig’s 1990 book and the 2001 DreamWorks movie it inspired, Shrek is an grumpy green ogre who in unhappy to find his isolated swamp overrun by fairy-tale characters, including the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio and Puss in Boots. He makes a deal with the power-hungry and “vertically challenged” Lord Farquaad: Shrek will save imprisoned Princess Fiona for Farquaad to marry and Farquaad will remove the interlopers from his swamp.
But Princess Fiona has a mind and secret of her own. What happens next changes the course of swamp history.
Jason Sofge, the professional actor playing Shrek, said this is a dream role.
“I love the heart of ‘Shrek.’ It’s a beautiful fairy tale, where a good person does the right things and gets happiness in the end,” he said. “I also love that this is a challenging piece, with a lot of moving parts. The show is very difficult, technically, and we tell a simple story with all of these complicated elements.”
To play Shrek, Sofge must spend three hours having makeup and custom-made prosthetics applied to his face. (Fresh ones are needed each day.) He also wears five-inch heeled boots, a suit that makes him appear almost twice his size and a large head-piece.
“It makes me look massive. It’s really cool,” he said. “I’m a character actor and I love the ability to disappear. … Now, I’m figuring out how to sing with all that.”
Roy said Mayo rented six sets and numerous props from a California company for the production, including a 20-foot long dragon puppet — with light-up eyes — that requires four people to operate.
“If we’re going to do ‘Shrek,’ we’re going to do it right,” Roy said.
At one point in the show, 16-year-old Nicole Streger, who plays Princess Fiona, has about 78 seconds to transform from human to ogre. Backstage, she said, it is a frenzy as crew members help her to make the transition, but all of the work is worth it to tell this story.
“I keep connecting the stresses in the story with my own life,” said Nicole, a sophomore at Bernards High School who takes performing arts classes at Mayo. “At the start, (Shrek and Fiona) aren’t super comfortable with who they are and they’re discriminated against for different reasons, like the way they look or the way they talk. For kids in high school, that’s super easy to relate to.”
Shrek The Musical
Mayo Performing Arts Center
100 South St., Morristown
Tickets: $20-30, available online at www.mayoarts.org. June 1-3.
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