Once upon a time in a Kingdom not so far away (right here in Townsville, as a matter of fact), a big announcement had thrown all the people into a flurry of excitement. A great show was to be staged for all the Land and the villagers were invited to take part. This great show would boast the very best bits of the very best tales: An unlikely hero on a dangerous quest, a beautiful Princess waiting to be rescued, a loveable sidekick, a dashing Royal and, of course, a dragon! With all the Kingdom invited to sing and dance for their place in this wondrous show, more than 200 brave challengers stepped up to test their mettle. (OK, OK, it’s not quite the same as drawing a sword from a stone but it’s a daring feat nonetheless and was certainly a bigger turn out than anyone in living memory can recall for another show). While all the challengers gave it a red hot go, only 90 would pass the test and claim their rightful place in this great show. And so began the legend of Shrek the Musical.
Heading up the cast of lovable fairy-tale characters in this latest offering from the Townsville Choral Society are Richard Brown as Shrek, Madison Tomarchio as Princess Fiona and Charlie Nicholas as Donkey.
It would be easy to let the pressure of emulating Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy mount, but Richard, Madison and Charlie have instead chosen to focus on the opportunities that the stage adaptation offers them as performers by way of a deeper story line and more-layered character development.
“When you take a film that’s primarily about fairy tales and made up characters and talking animals and all these things, it’s easy to disassociate that from actual life,” said Charlie. “Whereas when you put it on a stage, you make it so much more human. I think this show is Shrek as you know and love it, but there’s so many more layers to it, that it becomes something else. You can really get on board with the characters, because it feels a lot more relatable when you see it right before your eyes.”
While the script stays true to the screenplay, with all the iconic lines remaining intact, greater backstory is built in to the musical through additional scenes and the (mostly) original soundtrack.
“You get to learn a little bit more about how [each character] came to be where they are,” Richard said.
“There’s a couple of songs that are familiar old favourites that [the writers] probably had to include, but other than that all the songs are completely original.”
Richard said it was that soundtrack that ultimately won his interest in being part of this show.
“When I first heard about Shrek, we were deep into Les Mis [rehearsals] and it was like ‘Nah. I won’t even think about that’,” he recalls.
“I was quite ignorant to the show at that stage … but I had a look at the story and a look at some of the songs and I thought ‘Geez, they’re all new songs. Ok, maybe I better have a listen’, so I had a listen to some snippets and thought ‘That doesn’t sound bad’, then I downloaded the whole soundtrack and wasted an hour listening to the entire thing and finally decided ‘This is really good!’
“Shrek’s a family show and it’s always going to be targeted at families, but there’s also quality ensemble singing and some amazing songs that are really worth the traditional theatre-goer coming and seeing,” said Richard.
Aside from the laugh-a-minute script and cleverly written songs that will keep audiences listening intently, Shrek also promises to delight the eye-balls as the cast and production team convert the Townsville Entertainment Centre into an enchanted world. Each member of the 90-odd ensemble takes on their own unique fairytale characters that will be sure to spark many a game of “Oh look, it’s —!”
“That’s exciting for the chorus members,” said Madison. “A lot of the time [when you’re in the ensemble], you’re grouped together, but in Shrek everyone kind of has their own individual characters so they all interact differently with each other. It’s a lot of fun.”
It’s also a lot of costumes and a lot of skilled make-up artistry that’s required to pull off all those characters. Richard and Charlie will spend the entire show in large suits, with even their own hands replaced with ogre hands and donkey hooves, respectively.
“The hands will be a challenge,” said Richard. “And I’ve met with Nikki [Noodle], our make-up artist, and I think I’m in for a couple of hours in the chair each night to get the head ready – we’ll know each other very well by the time this is over. But Madison’s probably under the biggest pump of us all with Princess Fiona’s final transformation.”
“I have several quick changes, but it’s not really anything that’s up to me,” she said. “I’m just putting my faith into other people. And I have a lot of faith. The stuff that Nikki’s done is amazing.
“Same goes for the Directors, the costume designers, the set designers, the people who do the lighting and the sound. We’re so lucky to have so many people who come together for this kind of thing and we’re so lucky to have the support of the community as well,” said Madison.
But for all the fancy sets, costumes and make-up; Richard, Madison and Charlie insist the greatest appeal of this show is its ogre-sized heart.
“People have asked me whether I’ll be on my hands and knees for the whole show as Donkey, but it’s not about that,” said Charlie. “You have to pull it back and think about ‘Who is Donkey?’
“I think Donkey is in the same boat as Shrek and Fiona – every single one of the characters in this show is hoping for more. They’ve been dealt a hand in life that they don’t necessarily want or deserve and have had this dream of chasing something bigger and I think as people we go through those sorts of challenges every day.
“Anyone who has seen the film and loves it will only have more reasons to enjoy this one,” Charlie said. “There’s nothing you can do by turning it into a stage show that will make you care less about the characters or about the story. If you love it for what it is, you’ll love it even more when we add so much more to it.”
Catch Townsville Choral Society’s Shrek the Musical at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre on 18-27 January 2019. Click here for tickets