Shrek: The Musical opened last weekend at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres, receiving great reviews and playing to packed houses. The show is presented by Packemin Productions, Sydney’s leading creators of Pro/Am musical theatre.
Based on DreamWorks’ blockbuster film and the book by William Steig, Shrek: The Musical brings the much-loved film characters to life on stage. The production stars Jay Laga’aia (Play School, Star Wars, The Lion King) as Shrek, Luke Joslin (Les Miserables, Avenue Q, The Play That Goes Wrong) as Lord Farquaad, Mikayla Williams (Packemin’s Hairspray and Wicked) as Princess Fiona, and Nat Jobe (The Lion King and The King and I) as Donkey.
Theatre People caught up with two of the show’s principal cast members, Nat Jobe and Nikole Music, to find out more about Packemin Productions’ Shrek: The Musical.
TP: Did you know much about the stage musical version of Shrek before signing on for this production?
Nikole Music: About six years ago, I saw a YouTube video of Sutton Foster singing ‘Morning person’ and since then I have listened to the soundtrack a hundred times or so. ‘The Dragon’ song, however, is different to the original soundtrack. It was originally a trio (three-headed dragon) but after workshopping the show, the writers decided to change it to a solo. It has been a fun ride learning a new piece of music that not many musical theatre fans have heard.
Nat Jobe: When I first heard that Shrek had become a Broadway musical, I checked out some videos on YouTube, mainly because I was so curious to see how they were going to bring this magical story to stage. From then on, it was always a show that I was so keen to be involved with, and I feel so lucky to be involved with Packemin’s incredible production.
TP: Is it exciting to be able to bring Shrek: The Musical to Sydney audiences for the first time?
Nat Jobe: It’s so exciting! The story of Shrek is just so, so awesome and hilarious! And this production is larger than life. The sets and costumes are out of this world and the talent on stage has blown my mind throughout rehearsals. And, of course, I’m LOVING playing the role of Donkey!
Nikole Music: I first saw Shrek the movie when I was 11-years-old and to be able to bring my childhood memories to the stage is pretty amazing. I am especially excited to bring the Dragon to life, as no one has ever seen her staged this way before. The puppeteers, creative team and I have worked so hard together to ensure that the Dragon is seen as a living creature, so that you can really feel her emotions, strength and vulnerability.
TP: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in playing the Dragon?
Nikole Music: The biggest challenge I have when playing the Dragon is not being able to see the puppeteers or the puppet behind me. I rely heavily on my amazing puppeteers to follow me and move as one so that we look like a cohesive unit. The biggest challenge for the puppeteers is that they can’t see what I’m doing as my back is facing them. There is not much room for error either, as if we don’t keep together as one unit, we lose the Dragon’s realness.
TP: How do you go about taking on a character as recognisable and as loved as Donkey? Is it a challenge trying to strike a balance between paying homage to the character as portrayed by Eddie Murphy and, at the same time, creating your own take on the role?
Nat Jobe: Interestingly, I have found the role quite daunting for this very reason. Donkey is such an iconic character and Eddie Murphy’s interpretation of the role is pretty much perfection … maybe I should just give up now! (laughs) But it’s very much about bringing out the recognisable parts of Donkey that audiences know, love and expect but then adding parts of my own personality and flair to the role. I am really loving the version of Donkey that I’ve found. His child-like innocence is such a joy to play.
TP: What do you enjoy most about Shrek in its stage musical form?
Nikole Music: The Shrek soundtrack has always been my favourite part of the stage musical. The music is witty, soulful, fun, beautiful and everything else you could imagine it to be. The orchestra and the cast combined truly bring this musical to life.
TP: What impresses you most about Packemin’s production of Shrek: The Musical?
Nat Jobe: I think the production values of this show took me by surprise. I always knew that Packemin puts everything into their productions, but this piece is truly massive. The sets are absolutely beautiful and magical and the costumes are incredible. Audiences can expect to be wowed by what they see on stage in Shrek.
Nikole Music: There is so much that impresses me with Packemin’s production of Shrek: The Musical, but I would have to say that the costumes, set and wigs/make up take the cake. The amount of detail that has gone into each costume, each wig and each prosthetic is absolutely phenomenal, and audiences are going to see them and just be drawn back to the movie. Once combined with the cast and orchestra, this show will truly be spectacular.
TP: Nikole, is this your first time working with Packemin Productions? How was it that you came to be involved with Packemin?
Nikole Music: This will be my second time working with Packemin Productions. My first musical with the company was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I played one of the silly girls and it was such a fun experience. I met some lifelong friends and got to be a part of a show that was magical. After watching previous productions, I knew I wanted to be a part of one thus auditioning for Beauty and the Beast.
TP: Nat, I understand this is your first time working with Packemin Productions. How have you found the experience of working with Neil Gooding and the Packemin team?
Nat Jobe: Yes, this is my first time working with Packemin and I’m having such a great time. Neil has always put on the most stunning productions and I feel so lucky to be part of this process. Everybody is working so hard to get this show off the ground and it feels great to be part of such a cohesive and passionate team of creatives. Packemin’s shows are so fantastic because they give the younger ensemble members a chance to work on a full-scale musical with professional cast, crew and producers. It’s an amazing learning experience for them. I know I would’ve given my right arm to be involved in a show like this when I was younger.
SHREK: THE MUSICAL – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 17 February, 2018
Venue: Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including interval)
Tickets: $35 – $55
Tickets can be purchased online here