Let’s Talk Ogres: Q&A with ‘Shrek the Musical’ Director Brian Bzdawka
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Greendale Community Theatre
In 2008, DreamWorks hopped on the screen-to-stage trend when Shrek the Musical hit Broadway. The larger-than-life musical expands the story behind the contemporary fairytale book and animated film with a Tony-nominated score, featuring catchy tunes like Big Bright Beautiful World and Don’t Let Me Go.
Pop culture references and fart jokes aside, Shrek the Musical carries a heartwarming theme of acceptance as the green ogre Shrek (Ben Tajnai) and his unexpected sidekick Donkey (Shawn Holmes) help an array of fairytale creatures regain their kingdom and rescue Princess Fiona (Rae Elizabeth Pare).
We got to chat with Brian Bzdawka, Greendale Community Theatre’s artistic director who will be directing Shrek the Musical, about bringing ogres and fairytale creatures to the Greater Milwaukee Area.
Why did you think Shrek the Musical would be a good fit for GCT?
The other co-founder of GCT (Tom Reifenberg) and I are both in the beginning stages of starting our families, I have two kids and he has a kid, so we wanted to put on a show where families and kids can come and enjoy. We did The Little Mermaid a few years back and we loved that aspect of it.
What kind of special makeup effects will be incorporated in the show?
Shrek himself will have three prosthetic pieces that go on to cover his face and head, and Fiona will have the same thing at the end of the show. The Three Little Pigs, Three Bears and Big Bad Wolf will have prosthetics as well.
We did a tutorial with the cast on how to do the prosthetics themselves. The basic steps are applying spirit gum to the appliance, letting it get tacky, applying it to your face and then using makeup to blend it to your face.
What is the hardest part of producing such a well-known story?
One thing that is hard about doing something like Shrek is that everyone has an iconic image of what the characters, the set and everything should look like. What’s tough is bringing in your own voice while still paying respect to what Shrek is and what everyone expects. No one wants to come and see a totally different version of it.
You have to make sure you are staying true to what (the story) is while still having fun and bringing your own sense of humor, which comes out in some of the jokes and bits we have added.
What are you looking forward to most about the run of the show?
I’m looking forward to seeing the kids in the audience and how they will react to the different aspects of the show. Our cast is so phenomenal, and I know everyone always says that, like the singing is so great and this and that, but the singing really is phenomenal!
We are always so blessed and I don’t know where, or necessarily why, we get such talented people. I think the kids will really love the humor and these characters. I’m excited for them to be vocal and hear them yell at the characters and hear them laugh out loud. Hopefully it’s just a lot of fun for them.
Any favorite songs from Shrek the Musical?
I am most excited for the song Freak Flag. Our ensemble is amazing, but what makes that song so great is that the characters learn to accept that they are different and that being different is ok. It is as touching of a moment as it can be when coming from these crazy characters.
I know a big aspect of GCT is its mission to redefine community theatre. Can you talk a little more about this?
Awhile back we thought about removing the word “community” from our name because “community” in terms of theatre has a negative connotation. It was a conscious choice that we made to sort of stand up for that word and what it means in terms of building a community around us and creating a theatre family.
That’s how the whole idea of partnering up with a charity in the community for each show came about. We try really hard to keep our ticket prices low, so that if you enjoyed yourself and want to leave a couple bucks on your way out and support a local charity, you can. The charity partner for this show is Generations Against Bullying, which fits in well with the theme as far as the way Shrek and the fairytale creatures are treated and handled.
Shrek the Musical, presented by Greendale Community Theatre, runs July 19 - 22 and 26 - 29 at at Greendale High School’s Henry Ross Auditorium, 6801 Southway, Greendale. For tickets visit greendaletheatre.org or call 414-817-7600