That’s a Lot of Money
Shrek The Musical is a bit of a strange creature. The musical is based on an animated film which is based on a book that is relatively unknown next to everything else that is...Shrek. The 30-page children’s book from 1990 got turned into a big-budget animated film in 2001 that grossed nearly half a billion dollars worldwide before making it off to home video, ultimately immortalized as a rather large and monolithic multi-media franchise. A David Lindsey-Abaire musical was staged on Broadway. At the time it opened in 2008, it was one of the most expensive musicals of all time. It cost $25 million just to open the thing. Variety noted that the size of the production was something that had to be overcome, referring to “the busy visuals and gargantuan set-pieces.” This is scarcely the sort of thing that truly embraces live theatre.
That’s More Like It
Ten years later, a much more modest production opens locally thanks to The Greendale Community Theatre. The scenic design is actually cleverly minimalist. Just a few movable pieces here and there. Lynn Ludwig’s vibrant costuming goes a long way towards amplifying the live actors who are the heart and soul of live theatre. Yes, there is a really massive dragon puppet and a cute, little foam gingerbread man, but the comedic presence Laura MCDonald as Gigny and the total diva stature of Raven Dockery as the singing voice of a massive dragon are the true appeal of both those characters. A smaller-budget production has the opportunity to focus the show that much more on the actual actors.
But...He Doesn’t SOUND Scottish
No. No he doesn’t. But he doesn't have to. Benjamin Tajnai has a robust, earthy presence onstage. But he’s not doing a whole lot to try to adopt the Scottish accent of film version of the character. And I don’t really think it matters. (The movie had the character's accent as Scottish, but it might well have been Canadian.) In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, actor Mike Meyers talked about coming up with the voice of the character:
"It took a few times for me to get the voice right. I first tried it in a sort of Canadian accent, but it just didn't connect, and, because fairytales are a European thing and ogres are more earthy, the Scottish accent just felt right."
Such is the sort of thing a voice actor has to deal with. Being live and present onstage, Tajnai has so much more to work with in carving out characterization. Physically he’s a very imposing figure. The guy’s huge...so the earthiness comes natural. And there isn’t all that rubbery 2001 CGI animation to have to overcome either...it’s all very organic and right there onstage. No edits. No camera angles. No Smashmouth. (At least not in the production.) It’s all very natural. Just an audience, an ogre and a rather large cast that’s telling a story.
Greendale Community Theatre’s production of Shrek: The Musical runs through Jul. 29 at the Henry Ross Auditorium on 6801 Southway. For ticket reservations, call 414-817-7600 or visit greendaletheatre.org. My comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of The Shepherd-Express.