By NATALIE MILLER
In a land not so far away, the Center Players theater group will be performing the musical rendition of Shrek at the Hanover Tavern June 21 through 25.
Broadway’s Shrek the Musical is based on the popular 2001 Dream Works film, Shrek, and follows some of the same plot points.
Shrek the Musical follows the story of an ogre and princess who fall for one another while traveling to meet who they believe is the princess’ one true love. Like in the movie, famous fairy tale characters make appearances throughout the show.
According to the show’s co-director Patrick Warren, the musical version of the story has more details of the main characters’ lives than the original movie.
“It’s so much more heartfelt because you get into the back story of Shrek and Fiona,” Warren said. “You find out why Fiona was in the tower in the first place, you find out why Shrek lives alone.”
The Center Players have run through their lines and practiced their dance steps in the weeks leading up to the show’s June 21 opening night. Their evenings are spent at the Barksdale Theater in the Hanover Tavern.
Warren co-directs the Center Players with Lorie Foley, who also directs several other local productions like the Ashland Variety Show.
Warren has been with the Center Players for years, and said he is looking forward to seeing the actors’ hard work come together during show week.
“I am looking forward to seeing each character come alive on the stage,” Warren said.
Warren said more costumes are needed for Shrek the Musical than most shows the Center Players put on.
“It’s a different show for us,” Warren said. “But we’re up to the challenge and we’re having a lot of fun with it.”
The lead role of Shrek is played by Center Player veteran Sean Hartigan. Shrek the Musical is Hartigan’s sixth production with the Center Players. Shrek’s “noble steed,” Donkey, is played by rising Atlee High School junior Sydney Johnson.
Atlee High School student Dana Heiter is playing Fiona, the lead female role and Shrek’s love interest.
“I’m just so excited for everything,” Heiter said during rehearsals the week before opening night.
This is Heiter’s first year performing with the Center Players, though she has years of theater experience through school. Heiter said she is looking forward to meeting with audience members after the show.
“You see the kids who came out to the show, and they’re excited to meet the princess,” Heiter said.
For about a month Hartigan’s mother, Nancy, has repurposed and created several of the countless costumes needed for the production. Hartigan said she has worked on costumes with the Center Players for about four years, and has made costumes for their productions of The Wiz, Fiddler on the Roof, and Once Upon a Mattress.
“I love when the kids come in and see their costumes for the first time,” Hartigan said. “It is really cool to see them on stage and that your vision is up there and how you imagined it to be.”
Many of the costumes can be upcycled from thrifted clothing, or costumes from previous productions. Hartigan stitches the clothing together on her grandmother’s old sewing machine, which is heavy but gets the job done.
“I feel like I have my grandmother with me when I sew,” Hartigan said.
Rising Atlee High School senior Andrew Gaskin will be playing Lord Farquad, Shrek’s vertically-challenged foe who is also competing for Fiona’s affections. To play the role of a character much shorter than himself, Gaskin walks on his knees with makeshift legs attached to the front of his thighs to give the appearance of short legs.
Gaskin said singing is one of the most challenging parts of performing on his knees, because performers are supposed to stand when singing.
“You just have to push through,” Gaskin said.
Shrek the Musical will be recent Patrick Henry High School graduate Lily Abbott’s last performance with the Center Players. Abbott, who is playing the Captain of the Guard this year, started performing with the group when she was about seven years old.
Abbott said she is looking forward to seeing her family and the audience’s response to the show.
“You see the same reactions from the same people every night [during rehearsals], but then opening night you see the new reactions from everyone,” Abbott said.
Abbott will be attending VCU in the fall to study kinetic imaging.
“It’s been such a great experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Abbott said of her time with the Center Players.
Each summer the Center Players sponsor a musical production, and a one-week Summer Theatre Camp.