‘Shrek: The Musical’ brings fairy tale creatures to Salt Lake City

With Shrek, Donkey, Fiona, Pinocchio and the other fairy tale creatures, Dreamworks has moved its hit movie from the silver screen to the stage. After being nominated for eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the nationwide tour of Shrek: The Musical began. The stunning production, complete with the Tony Award-winning costumes and sets will stop in Salt Lake City, Feb. 26-March 3 at Capitol Theatre.

Tony Johnson
Tony Johnson

To learn more about how the musical was moved from movie to stage, we chatted with Tony Johnson, the actor who plays Pinocchio about the production, the music and how he makes his nose grow.

QSaltLake: When did the tour start?

Tony Johnson: We went into rehearsals last year and opened in October. We’ll continue until May 7. Right now we’re in Dayton, Ohio, for about two weeks. We opened in Alaska and were there for about two weeks.

QSL: How has the tour been going?

TJ: It’s been wonderful. Shrek is its third year on tour and has seen a lot of cities. This is kind of the last stretch before the rights are released for regional productions. We’re on the last leg of the tour and we’re hitting a lot of one-nighters. Every audience is very packed and full of people that have all been waiting for Shrek to come to their city.

QSL: For those here in Utah that aren’t familiar with the adaptation, how does it move from movie to stage?

TJ: The story of the musical follows the first movie. It will feel pretty familiar; Shrek, Donkey and Fiona face off against Lord Farquaad. The musical is great because it gets to elaborate on the characters and add so much more. The musical has an entire cast of fairy tale creatures.  The musical allows you to get to know the colorful and crazy characters.

QSL: What are the biggest challenges in production?

TJ: I think audiences are expecting it to be different because it is a musical. But I think it’s a challenge to loosen audience members up, at least at first.

But the show is so smart and so funny. It extends to children and adults and the humor is perfect for kids of all ages. I think people really take to it.

The production quality is amazing. The costumes are unbelievable. It’s really visually stunning. The dragon looks exactly like the dragon from the film and I think people start to love it very quickly.

QSL: How would you describe the atmosphere and feel of the music and production?

TJ: I think the atmosphere is really grand. It depends what theater we’re playing, but when we’re able to employ all of the things that are traveling with us it’s amazing.

Just recently we had a rehearsal and when I looked over and saw the dragon I couldn’t help but notice how amazing she really is. The props, costumes and sets look just like the movie

QSL: How would you describe the music?

TJ: It’s very creative. I wish I could compare it to something you might already know. It’s all over the place. Every number has a different feel — there is Broadway, country, rock, just a little bit of everything. The music hits a lot of genres so the audience doesn’t get tired of the sound.

It was written by Jeanine Tesori, who has done so many great works, including Thoroughly Modern Millie. The music is just very well done. The lyrics are smart, funny and witty.

QSL: Do we get to see a little more of Pinocchio in the musical?

TJ: Yes, you get to see more of him. He has funny bits in the musical and is a well-featured character. He is definitely silly and pretty outrageous. In the musical he is the center of the fairy tale creatures’ story. The creatures get evicted from their homes and are taken out to the swamp. He struggles with self acceptance and wondering if he’s a wooden boy or a real boy. He has some pretty big musical numbers, including ‘Let Your Freak Flag Fly.’

QSL: Does Pinocchio’s nose grow in the musical?

TJ: The nose grows twice. I have a battery-operated pack and I wear a harness that attaches around my chest and a battery pack in right leg with a cord that runs down my arm.  I have a little lever in my hand and all of that is attached to the nose on my face.

It seems like a lot of work, but that’s the point, every detail is taken care of in the show.

QSL: Why should adults go and see the show?

TJ: A lot of times people think it’s just a kid’s show and think it’s only for families. But the humor extends itself to all ages. It’s smart, fun and everyone will love it.

I think the parallel between Shrek being an ogre and learning to accept it as his identity draws some interesting parallels for sexual orientation, as well.

QSL: Do you have any advice for young, gay aspiring thespians in Utah?

TJ: I guess just accept who you are and live your life and make your choices. Meet new people and go to new places. Go to New York. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place where you will find what you need to start a career.

Shrek: The Musical plays in Salt Lake City, Feb. 26-March 3 at Capitol Theatre. Tickets are available at arttix.org

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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