An ogre finds love as the Brandywiners present 'Shrek the Musical'
By J. Chambless
Fiona (Kate Wright) and Shrek (Jeff Santoro) face off before love blooms.
By John Chambless
In the labyrinth of dressing rooms
beneath the Open Air Theatre stage at Longwood Gardens, Shauna
Goodman dodged fairy tale characters and tried to speak over the buzz
of conversations on Monday evening, with the clock rapidly ticking
down to showtime.
It was dress rehearsal for “Shrek the Musical,” this year's summer production by the Brandywiners, a Longwood tradition dating back 85 years, and if Goodman was feeling the pressure, she was doing a good job of hiding it.
“It's a childhood cartoon that everybody loves,” she said. “You know it, and you expect it on the stage, and that's been the toughest challenge, to make that come to life. It's sassy and really has a sense of adult humor, especially the way the actors can ad-lib. The banter is wonderful. It gives a sense of camaraderie too, which is awesome. They add some different things every night. You could see it twice and see two different shows.”
Goodman signed on to be the choreographer for “Shrek,” and if things had run according to plan, her work would be largely over at this point. But late last week, the director and assistant director departed, and Goodman was drafted as the stand-in director. “This is my first directing experience,” she said with a laugh. “I was thrown into it pretty quickly. I made a lot of changes, but they were necessary. The biggest change from being choreographer to director is that everyone wants you, everywhere. I expect to answer at least a million questions. With crew and everybody, there are about 70 of us running the show. There are people in the cast playing four or five different roles, with costume changes. It's a very dance-heavy show. ”
Goodman joined the Brandywiners as the choreographer for last year's production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Her choreography for “Shrek” had to take into account the wide range of fairy-tale costumes worn by the cast. “Everybody has a different level,” she said. “You'll see some featured dancers that do a lot more than the people in the egg costume, or the pigs. And Shrek is loaded with fluff,” she added, smiling. “But the choreographer has to make everybody look good.”
Goodman admires the snarky sense of humor in the show, and the cast enjoys the ability to add a word here or there to spice things up. “It's wonderful. It's been a journey, an adventure,” she said. “Constantly moving, too. The way we started is not the way we are ending, but it's all good. It's friendly, and it's family-friendly, which is great.”
Playing the central role of the wisecracking sidekick, Donkey, is Paul Goodman, who happens to be married to Shauna. Backstage before the show, with his face painted donkey gray, Goodman said he got involved with the Brandywiners last year when he stepped into a supporting role in “Fiddler on the Roof.” This year, he's one of the stars.
“I come from a long history of ad-libbing. It's one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “The fact that this show allows me to do that is all the better. The style is such that we talk right to the audience. We have a lot of entrances and exits through the audience, so we're constantly bugging people,” he said, grinning. “I touch the conductor's head at one point – just because I can.”
Working with regional theater veteran Jeff Santoro as Shrek has been great, Goodman said. “He's also very good at ad-libbing. The two of us up there can be a very dangerous combination. But it's really fun. We've known each other almost all our lives, but the last time he and I performed together was 36 years ago, in 1980, at the Delaware Children's Theatre in 'Babes in Toyland.'”
Keeping the theater tradition alive in the Goodman home, the couple's 6-year-old daughter is making her stage debut in “Shrek” as one of the dancing rats. “We also have a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy at home, and they're theater kids,” Goodman said. “They know the show very well. They hear it in the car, they see it on TV, and they've been to almost every rehearsal.”
The Brandywiners will present “Shrek the Musical” at the Longwood Gardens Open Air Theatre on July 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets include admission to Longwood Gardens beginning at 9 a.m. on the day of performance, plus a fountain display immediately following the show. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 per person for group of 25 or more on Thursday and Friday nights only, $25 for students ages 13 to 21, and $15 for children ages 12 and younger. Reservations are available at www.brandywiners.org.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.