June 21--In 2008, actor-puppeteer John Tartaglia took on three roles in "Shrek the Musical" on Broadway. This summer at the Muny, he has the top role: director.
Tartaglia -- who was Pinocchio, Magic Mirror and a Dragon puppeteer in the original Broadway cast -- says the live "Shrek" is as entertaining as the 2001 animated film but that character development plays a larger role.
Tartaglia starred as Genie last summer in the Muny's "Aladdin," and he's set to direct "Because of Winn-Dixie" on Broadway. He chatted with us about his return to "Shrek" and the Muny.
How is the live interpretation of "Shrek" different from the animated version? It's right there in front of you, and we get to bring it to life onstage and in three dimensions. We get to delve a little deeper into Shrek's history -- why he's become the ogre he's become, why he's so angry at the world and why he's shut everybody out. We get to learn a bit more about Fiona as well -- when and why she got locked in the tower. And we even know more about Donkey -- where he came from and why he ends up in Shrek's swamp. It's great because the show lets us get into the heart of who these characters are so you care about them even more. By the end of the night, the audience is really invested in the story, and maybe even felt some comparisons to the movie.
How is "Shrek" at the Muny different from shows you've done in the past? "The biggest difference about the Muny is the size -- you get to dream as big as you want to dream, and there are no holds barred. That's one of the reasons why I love it here: If you have an imagination and you have ideas, it's welcomed and it's celebrated. You get to create a production on a scale where you wouldn't anywhere else. To me, there's no better place than to do that than the Muny.
Shrek is a children's film with a ton of adult overtones. Will the live version be appropriate for children? I don't think there's anything in the show that is inappropriate. It's done very well, and I think the show is even more of family entertainment than the film. I would not feel comfortable being a part of it if there was anything inappropriate. The movie might have pushed the boundaries a little bit, but that also appeals to a different kind of audience. We want everyone of all ages to come to the show, and there definitely is something in the show for everyone. The show really is a family musical.
Is the show a condensed version of the film? The show is not condensed. If anything, it takes the main storylines from the film and expands them a bit. With a musical you get two acts and an intermission for the audience to take a break and get a chance to delve into the story. There's a lot more fun with the fairy-tale creatures. We have a 30-foot dragon who has a big song in the show, as well. We get to take those journeys with the characters from the film, and we get to explore the two most important themes of the show: Don't judge someone before you get to know them, and what makes you different is what makes you special.
Will we see elaborate costumes and sets? We have it all. Every single fairy-tale creature has a uniquely built, beautiful costume. There's a huge music number in Duloc with Farquaad that has a ton of dancers. We have a bunch of knights, guards -- everything you could possibly think of. The sets are beautiful, as well. We have castles, the dragon's cave, the big wedding chapel where Fiona transforms. We've been working on "Shrek" since last October. It's a huge process.
Most exciting part of the show for you as a director? Having been part of the original production and then coming here, it's really special. I realized there are so many elements to the show that are really heartfelt to me. There's definitely a lot of big magical effects moments in the show. The part that I loved is the heart -- the friendship between Shrek and Donkey, the relationship that grows between Shrek and Fiona and the misunderstandings about who they are. There's so many moments in the show that are touching to watch. I'm excited for an audience as big as the Muny to experience it. I would love to see audiences walk away laughing and feeling touched by the material.
What "Shrek the Musical" --When 8:15 p.m. Monday-June 30 --Where The Muny in Forest Park --How much $12-$80, plus the free seats --More info 314-534-1111; MetroTix.com
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