Yes, it’s a big-budget Broadway musical that’s based on an even-bigger-budget Hollywood animated feature, but remember, this is Shrek we are talking about: Shrek as in the creation of genius cartoonist William Steig, Shrek as in the funniest and most adorable Dreamworks movie, Shrek as interpreted by two of contemporary theater’s most sophisticated artists — playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori. Lindsay-Abaire wrote Rabbit Hole, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and Tesori wrote the music for Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change. So you can expect that, in addition to a dancing, singing green ogre, this play will include its fair share of cunning double entendres and sly references to classic Broadway shows.
It will also contain a number of elements that have been crafted since the Broadway premiere. In short, you haven’t seen this Shrek yet. For example, there’s an all-new dragon — a puppet with four people inside and a fifth offstage doing the voice. Several of the characters are played by puppets, and even some of the leads employ special puppet effects to make them seem more like the animated denizens of a fairy tale. The gingerbread man known as Gingy appears onstage as a puppet thanks to a strategically placed baking pan.
But of all the new elements on display in this new production, easily the most talked about are a pair of legs and the man who’s down on his knees behind them. Wait, that came out sounding strange. What I meant to say was that Lord Farquaad, the height-challenged egotist who’s responsible for so much of Shrek and Fiona’s difficulties, appears in this show as an actor — Christian Marriner — who wears a costume that’s outfitted with two short puppet legs in the front. To play Lord Farquaad, Marriner climbs into this contraption and proceeds to sing, dance, and act for the next two hours, all while moving about entirely on his knees. It does sound painful, but before you go and make up your mind, listen to what the critics have been saying. “The real crowd favorite was Christian Marriner as Lord Farquaad,” writes Utah theater blogger Tony Porter. “Marriner easily stole every scene he was in and was an absolute joy to watch. He was brilliant in the kneeling rig and really was accomplished at the visual gags afforded by the rig. Plus, he showed excellent comedic timing with all of his dialogue.”
Intrigued, I had no choice but to contact the man behind this fabled short lord. When I spoke with Marriner last week, he was in Folsom, California, with the show, and as for your question (i.e., does it hurt?), he got right to it. “Yeah, I sleep with a pillow under my legs,” he explained. “You would think it would be the knees, but it’s really more the back; the back is what really hurts.” Asked about the costume, Marriner said, “The rig? Imagine a baseball catcher’s mitt with puppet legs, and you’re almost there. It does the job though — I’m six feet tall, and it makes me look short.”
Lord Farquaad, in case you haven’t paid any attention to his name, is the villain of this fairy tale, and it’s always fun to hear how the actor who plays the villain prepares. Marriner was no exception. He told me that “one great thing about this production was that the director, Stephen Sposito, was very open about new approaches to the characters, so when we were in rehearsal and I began giving him my ‘evil Honey Boo Boo’ interpretation of Lord Farquaad, he actually thought it was hilarious.” So, he’s the villain, but he’s also the critic’s favorite. Will we hate him or love him? There’s only one way to know for sure.
Theater League presents Shrek: The Musical at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Tuesday, March 26, and Wednesday, March 27. For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.