Shrek’s a big guy. As an ogre, he towers above villagers and fairytale critters alike, and easily leverages his size into an exclusive claim on the deep, dank swamp he calls home. But despite his stature, he’s not the biggest personality in CharACTers’ production of “Shrek: The Musical.” That honor goes to the dragon.
“We built a dragon puppet with a 20-foot wingspan,” said Cody Carlton, executive creative director of CharACTers, a Gadsden-based community actors studio. “It takes five different people to operate.”
The show premieres Friday at Gadsden State Community College’s Wallace Hall, where audiences will experience not only the familiar story of an ogre who just wants to be left alone in his ruddy shack, but also the expansive technical scope of the production, featuring actors from all around the area.
“The dragon’s mouth opens and closes, her eyes light up. It becomes a character,” Carlton said. “At that point it doesn’t matter who else is on stage — they’re going to be looking at that puppet.”
Though the dragon may command the stage, chew up the scenery (and possibly swallow it), the finer technical details are where the crew really gets to recreate the movie and Broadway experience.
Take the numerous changes the character of Fiona undergoes from human to ogre and back again. For many of the transitions, Gadsden actress Shana Acray is transformed onstage through the use of creative lighting, illuminating her in green to provide the illusion of a transformation, a necessity when it comes to keeping the play moving instead of holding off to work on makeup.
For Fiona’s final, permanent transformation later in the play, however, Acray will disappear from stage to apply prosthetics, change clothing and have her skin airbrushed a healthy, ogre green with the help of a small team of technical services. When she reappears, she’s fully transformed into an ogre.
“We haven’t run that part yet,” said Acray a few weeks before the performance, “and it has kept me up at night.”
Meanwhile, Gadsden’s Mark Price, who stars as Shrek, will appear in full costume throughout the entire show.
“I started reading up on the process for the Broadway production and saw the bodysuit was 40 pounds,” said Price, laughing. “I thought, ‘I’m really going to have to get into shape to play this ogre.’”
The bodysuit for the CharACTers production turned out to weigh far less, but for an actor, no bodysuit could be nearly as heavy as the weight of Mike Myers’ iconic performance on his shoulders.
“I don’t know many people who haven’t seen at least one of the ‘Shrek’ movies. I’ve had some teenagers say I’d better do it perfectly,” said Price, who responds in perfect ogre-Scottish, “OK, no problem.”
With expectations high for characters like Shrek and Donkey to stick to the familiar performances set by Myers and Eddie Murphy, Price says the place to make the character his own is in the musical aspect of the performance.
“The music is so well written that you can show things through the songs that you can’t show through the acting,” said Price, who expresses emotions that aren’t typically ogreish in his singing, like tenderness. That Shrek is such a relatable character helps inform his performance beyond simply copping a Mike Myers accent and hoping for the best.
“We’ve all been misjudged about who we are at some point, and we build walls,” said Price. “It’s really fun knocking those walls down for an audience.”
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. You can email him at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO…
WHAT: CharACTers presents “Shrek: The Musical”
WHEN: March 7-8, 14-15 at 7:30 p.m., March 9, 16 at 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center, Gadsden State Community College, Gadsden
TICKETS: Adults, $12; students, children and seniors, $10. Tickets available from www.wallacehall.org or at the door.
INFO: Call the box office at 256-549-8475.