The show is a long time coming after a two-year pandemic delay
By Jacob Knipes
The musical, about the iconic ogre Shrek’s journey to reclaim his beloved isolated swamp by rescuing a princess from a tower while along the way discovering new friends, love and self-acceptance, was dealt its own long journey to the stage. First cast in early 2020 and originally set to be directed by Eric Mallette, the production was stalled upon the Covid-19 pandemic and left those involved in limbo.
“As an artist you wondered if theatre would come back, and I think that was the hardest part of the first year waiting for this to come around was knowing about theatre in general,” said Lillian Pelkey, who plays Princess Fiona. “Would my livelihood continue to exist?”
While they waited for updates and for the pandemic to subside, some cast members took the opportunity to practice.
For Matthew Riley, who plays Shrek, this came in an unorthodox way. “Well the pandemic came around, and I spent most of the pandemic going out on the trail, and during the lockdown, and singing to the cows in the fields as I walked by. And those cows were a very attentive audience but they didn’t clap much.”
As the pandemic slowed down and live theatre returned last year, plans were made to bring the production back. These plans, however, would involve a new director taking over for Mallette who left the production due to scheduling conflicts. The Paramount Players found a new director in Jeffrey Hull.
“I have been working towards directing a show with the Paramount for a few years now,” Hull wrote in an email. “Even getting as close as the day before auditions then the Paramount discovered the room damage and had to postpone. Then Covid happened. This time when Eric called to see if I could take over directing, all the timing worked so I could.”
Taking over brought on new challenges for Hull, however, as he also inherited the old cast and creative team while filling the holes left by those who dropped out.
“Going into the process was strange,” Hull wrote.
“When looking at the cast and changes needed after two years due to some no longer being available, I couldn’t offer any insight into the processes. I had to place full confidence in the producers, music team and stage manager. Any challenges I could think of all evaporated when I started working with the cast.”
Despite the changes from the original production plan, several actors gave nothing but praise for their fellow cast members and the production team.
“It’s really great to be back with some new people and some old friends,” said Kasey Franzoni, who plays Donkey. “And the director that you know didn’t pick us, didn’t cast us, came on board and he’s been fantastic. Everybody has been great, and the musicians they are ridiculous, ridiculously talented. So it has been quite a journey.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of watching the actors perform was how they managed to find their own versions of the world-famous characters. The lead actors explained how they pulled their interpretations from different inspirations to make them their own.
“A lot of people will come in knowing how Sutton Foster plays the role and a lot of people will come in knowing how Cameron Diaz voices the role,” Pelkey said. “So I approached it with trying to find some hybrid with the rehearsal process and how I could find a medium where Lillian fits in the middle of those two.”
Beyond the individual aspects of the show, however, was the high energy and synergy present within the ensemble as a whole. This particular aspect of the show was highlighted by Riley.
“Everybody is bringing it, and it’s that joy. It’s the joy of being together, it’s the joy of the release of performing and creating something beautiful. Everybody feeds each other in that realm. Everyone has been so supportive of everyone else throughout this creative process, and that is just such a treat to be a part of.”
“Shrek The Musical” runs from July 15-17 at the Paramount Theatre with performances at 7 p.m. on the Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16 and a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday, July 17. For more information and tickets, visit: paramountvt.org.
“I hope that everybody that is sitting in that audience feels like a 5-year-old kid when they come out of it. That’s what I hope,” Franzoni said. “I hope that it’s magical, joyful, just an experience that they have never had.”