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Checking in with the (appropriately) twisted stars of 'Shrek the Musical'

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“You’re all really funny, you’re all really fantastic performers, and you’re all really twisted in some way.”

According to John Tartaglia, who plays Pinocchio in Broadway’s Shrek the Musical, that’s how director Jason Moore (Avenue Q) explained the casting of the movie (and book) adaptation, which begins previews Nov. 8 and opens Dec. 14. Earlier this week, we had the chance to sit down with the stars and discovered that the description is accurate. They are definitely talented: They include one Tony winner, Thoroughly Modern Millie‘s Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona, and four Tony nominees: Sweet Smell of SuccessBrian d’Arcy James as Shrek; Monty Python’s Spamalot‘s Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad; Passing Strange‘s Daniel Breaker as Donkey; and Avenue Q‘s Tartaglia. And they do, in fact, each appear to be somewhat “twisted.” Foster did a cheerleader’s leg kick when she found out she was chatting with EW. Tartaglia said he’s given his Pinocchio a little Southern twang and a mild case of manic depression. D’Arcy James, who spends 90 minutes in the makeup chair to get his ogre on, quasi-quoted George Michael when describing one his favorite scenes from the show: “Farting is natural, farting is fun. Farting is best when it’s one on one.” Sieber, who performs the entire show on his knees to simulate evil Farquaad’s tiny stature, sounded equally excited about his showstopper “What’s Up, Duloc?” and the fact that every night he’ll get to change the name of the large My Pretty Pony he rides onstage. (During the musical’s tune-up run in Seattle, he went with Condoleezza, Sprinkles, and Tinsel). And Breaker, well, he just joined the cast two weeks ago — four weeks after his wife gave birth to their first child, Rory. “It’s a lot of work,” he said of playing catch-up on a show that itself is still being tweaked. “I got the bottle, and I’m like, ‘Hey, Rory, is this funny? Let me try this joke.'”

After the jump, the cast tells us who they envy less (d’Arcy James or Sieber), who we wouldn’t want to share the stage with, and what kids say when they say the darndest things.    

addCredit(“Joan Marcus”)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Who do you envy less: Brian for the time in the makeup chair or Chris for the time spent on his knees?

JOHN TARTAGLIA (Pinocchio): I’m gonna say Brian. It takes an hour and a half for him to get into the makeup, he can’t use the bathroom, and it’s hot. Stage lights are hot anyway, but then to have that makeup on top of it… There were so many moments in rehearsal [in Seattle] when we were in full costume and we were like “Oh god, we are dyin’” and them someone would motion to Brian, over in a corner, just sittin’ there happy with his tea. We’re like, “Ugh, fine. I guess we’ll suffer, Brian.”

SUTTON FOSTER (Princess Fiona): I think Brian wins. I see him backstage and three people are fanning him just to get air circulating, ’cause he’s also padded. And he has these icepacks that he wears to try to keep his body cool, and by the end of the first act they’re warm. Although I do have sympathy for Chris.

DANIEL BREAKER (Donkey): Chris. Chris Sieber is on his knees. Not only is he on his knees, he’s dancing on his knees. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it. And he can still be so hilarious.

BRIAN d’ARCY JAMES (Shrek): It does take an hour and a half for the makeup, and about 20 minutes to put the costume on, but all I have to do is sit there. It’s like getting into the bones of a Lamborghini as they build it around you and just driving off the lot. Not only does Chris spend the whole show on his knees, but it’s in a rig that doesn’t allow for great mobility when you’re not on your knees. So I can’t imagine it’s all sunshine and roses for him…

CHRISTOPHER SIEBER (Lord Farquaad): I’ve got so much crazy padding, my knees are fine. It’s the upper back actually because you’re holding yourself up differently…. I have to do 25 minutes of Pilates, yoga, and stretching before every show, otherwise I won’t get through it. Normally, when I don’t have to do a show on my knees, my warm-up is like [Coughs] let’s go. That’s it. That’s usually what I do. So this, [Laughs] I actually I have to take care of myself.

EW: Who’s the person most likely to break character onstage and laugh?

TARTAGLIA: Me. Absolutely me. I’m sure everyone will say me. Especially if I’m working with Chris. He and I have a couple of scenes together as Farquaad and the Magic Mirror [which Tartaglia also performs], and he makes faces that just… I don’t know what he does to me. I used to be a rock, and I’m no longer a rock. I am now the easiest person to make laugh. Definitely me. Put that down.

SIEBER: That would be John Tartaglia. He’s like a wounded antelope on the prairie, ’cause I don’t break but he does, and I’ll just keep going until he goes. Like, if I see him get a little twinkle — the “secret smile,” we call it — I’m like Go for it. He’s going down.

d’ARCY JAMES: I don’t envy anyone who has to be onstage with Chris Sieber longer than 15 seconds. I can’t say who is the worst breaker, but I would put money on him being the one to break ya. I mean, wait till you see him. It’s insane what he does.

FOSTER: Chris is the one to try to break everyone up, but I would say him. I used to get him all the time when we worked together on Millie. I think the next person might be Brian.

BREAKER: I’ve been able to break Brian in rehearsal. I’ve gotten him a couple of times. That’s my job, to try to make people break.

EW: Kids are known as a vocal audience. What’s the funniest thing you heard one shout during your Seattle run?

TARTAGLIA: One performance, when Fiona came out in the end and she’s an ogre, this little boy was, like “Ewwwww.” As loud as possible. We all laughed about it because it was not really the reaction you wanted the kids to have during this really heartfelt moment, but at the same time, it was such an honest thing — that’s how that little boy felt about it…. You never know what’s gonna come out of kids’ mouths, and I actually love that. I did Beauty and the Beast for a while [as Lumiere]. It was so amazing, kids would just yell things back at the Beast. When he has his little temper tantrum, they’d be like, [in disgruntled four-year-old’s voice] “Stop it.” They don’t realize they’re in the audience. They think they’re at home.

SIEBER: Johnny gets it [a lot]. I think somebody said [in a four-year-old know-it-all’s voice] “Here his nose goes again. You told a lie!” Stuff like that, which I love.

FOSTER: When Fiona meets Shrek he has a helmet on, and she thinks he’s it. She’s been waiting 20 years [for her prince]. She’s like, “Oh my gosh, you’re here! Please take off your helmet.” He’s like, “Uh, no.” She’s like, “Please. Please. Please. TAKE IT OFF!” And so he’s about to take the helmet off and you hear a kid go, “Nooooo!” because they know what’s coming. They know she’s gonna be like [gasps].

d’ARCY JAMES: As a matter of fact, during the first show, myseven-year-old daughter was there, and she said there was a girl whowas sitting right behind her who, just as I was about to take thehelmet off, said “Don’t do it!” She just knew this is not gonna turn out well. The other great moment was when we had a little [technical] snafu and sometime to talk to the folks [while it was fixed]. I got to interact with the kids in my costume. They brought them up onstage and they had all these questions. I think they weretrying to figure it out: They were looking at me like, I think thatmight be him… I think that might really be Shrek. So that was cool,because they had a sense of caution, you know, as you would with a biggreen ogre.

More on Shrek the Musical:

Acclaimed team will bring Shrek to Broadway
The Footlights: Fall Theater Preview
The Footlights: Broadway business slips, movie adaptations to the rescue?

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