By Tyler Grezaffi
Day number 23: Not of young Fiona being trapped in a castle, but of the young cast of Shrek: The Musical working hard to put the finishing touches on Playmakers’ latest show. The Reilly Theatre echoes with the “red leather, yellow leather” of vocal warm-ups from the cast mates. The crew bustles to have the set ready for the 5 p.m. rehearsal. And weaving her way throughout the choreographed chaos is the show’s director, Addie Barnhart, who is kind enough to lend a few words before the madness begins.
For anyone who has spent the past few years living alone in a swamp, the blockbuster intellectual property Shrek is no longer just a popular film series. In late 2008, its musical adaptation opened on Broadway, and this Friday it will open again under the care of Playmakers of Baton Rouge. The story is a fairy tale satire that follows an ogre and talking donkey as they set off to rescue a princess in order to regain the deed to his homeland.
Playmakers prides itself on being a professional theatre for young audiences. Barnhart says their version of the script is more conducive to younger attention spans.
“This one takes what is originally about a three hour show and condenses it down to about 1:45,” said Barnhart. “It takes out a lot of the extraneous stuff, puts it together, keeps the songs clipping along, and it works so well.”
And yet, adults need not fear a script that simplifies jokes or bores parents. Barnhart goes explained how different ages can appreciate this version.
“It’s taking it from what has been really marketed for young audiences and using a bit more of an advanced script that’s appealing to both adults and kids, so I’m excited to see how this goes for the audiences,” said Barnhart.
Admittedly after watching one rehearsal, the show seems to have the potential to speak to all maturity levels, simply due to the talent that exists on the stage. The supporting characters pop with the energy of a shot of espresso, children in the audience can enjoy an ensemble that is mostly their own age, and with Shrek and Fiona both played by trained actors, regular theatre goers can enjoy a high level of experience.
Playing the role of Shrek is Wil Thomas; a recent graduate from LSU and barely recognizable in his ogre costume. His past roles involving physical comedy (such as Leaf Coneybear in Putnam County Spelling Bee) helps with the movement and choreography inside the thick green costume, which he seems to wear without much effort. It turns out ogres really do have layers.
Northwestern musical theatre graduate Marion Bienvenu plays the tomboyish Princess Fiona. Known for performances in Hairspray (Tracy Turnblad), and City of Angels (Gabby/Bobbi), her rehearsal performance brought the same gusto and humor to the stage as her previous roles. Friday’s opening night will be her official Playmakers debut.
The unforgettable role of Donkey will be played by 13-year-old Baton Rouge native, Myrik Mitchell. He currently attends Northwestern Middle School and plans to continue his pursuit of performing throughout the years. When asked what led him to this role, he confidently responded with “hard work.”
Myrik isn’t the only one with big plans. Unfortunately, this will be Addie Barnhart’s last show directing at Playmakers. She will be relocating to Richmond, VA to fill the role of Education Director at the Quill Theatre.
“It’s a really nice way for Amanda, Anthony and I to round out our time here.” Barnhart says, “Our cast is fantastic.”
Shrek: The Musical opens this Friday, June 5th, in the Reilly Theatre at 7 p.m. Playing for two weekends, it also includes Saturday performances at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday performances at 2:30 p.m.