Like in the popular Dreamworks animated film, “Shrek: The Musical” features Shrek, the cantankerous ogre, his pal, Donkey and Princess Fiona, as well as the cartoonishly nefarious Lord Fahrquaad. But the stage version is more than just a direct, one to one translation of the movie to the stage. This is a full-on musical, with original song and dance numbers nowhere to be found in the film, as well as with expanded roles for many of the secondary characters that were either little seen or simply used as fodder for jokes or references in the film.
One such role is that of the little wooden boy, Pinocchio, played by native East Texan, Tony Johnson. A former resident of Athens, Johnson said he’s been thrilled to take on a part as colorful as Pinocchio, especially with the chance to flesh the character out a bit.
“In the movie you don’t really see as much of the human side of Pinocchio. You don’t really get to know him, he’s just this funny character on the side,” Johnson said. “Certainly this version is comedic, but he’s got a soft side and he’s struggling with self-acceptance like all of the fairy tale creatures. So it gives Pinocchio a chance to let the audience in on himself.”
Given the fantastical, colorful and over-the-top nature of the production, “Shrek: The Musical” is a marked departure from the majority of Johnson’s stage career, requiring him to act using prosthetics, a high-pitched voice and an unconventional costume.
“It was very difficult, at first especially. My nose in Act 2 is just a piece on a harness about six or seven inches long. But my nose in Act 1 is a mechanical nose that has a cord connected to it on a harness and a cord that comes through my right sleeve with a lever that I use make the nose grow. So I’m wearing all of that with the costume with big, giant shoes, a wig, a hat, all of these things made it very, very difficult and took a while to get used to,” Johnson said.
“You get in costume and everything is different. You’re looking around the room and you see a gigantic pig or a gigantic bear and you’re not you anymore, and that really helped taking Pinocchio to a different place,” he said.
Johnson described the look and feel of the production as a living storybook and that it served as a reminder of why he loves acting.
“The other productions I’ve done and other roles I’ve lived in have had their own sense of fun, but this is an opportunity to be kind of childlike and go back into those experimental stages from when you’re first learning to perform and use your imagination to create this world,” he said. “That’s something that’s really nice and reminds you of why you got into this in the first place.”
Johnson said audiences should most definitely expect some significant differences between the film and show, especially with the musical numbers.
“The music is amazing in the way it brings other layers and other details to characters that you wouldn’t have really thought about up until then. The movie is amazing and wonderful and I love it, but it is focused on Shrek and Donkey. Fiona is there and Lord Fahrquaad is there as a lead, but the musical really allows you to see all of these characters in a new way,” he said.
“Shrek: The Musical” will be performed in a special joint venture between the University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center and the S.E. Belcher Center at LeTourneau University in Longview. The production will open at the Belcher Center at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, with an additional performance in Tyler 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Tickets are available for the Belcher Center performance by calling 903-233-3080 or by visiting www.belchercenter.com. Tickets for the Cowan Center performance are available by calling 903-566-7424 or by visiting www.cowancenter.org.