'Shrek' comes alive at Peoria Players

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Since last July Travis Olson and Mary Keltner could have gone by Shrek for their last name. They have basically lived the popular musical by that name since Peoria Players asked them to co-direct its last show of the 2013-14 season.

Directing and staging the show for its regional community theatre premiere is the culmination of activity that, in the long run, will result in good things for Peoria Players and other theatres that want to produce “Shrek The Musical.”

“This is a big show, for everybody involved. It has been quite an undertaking,” Olson said. “But, it has been fun.”

“Shrek The Musical” opens 10-show run at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Other shows will be 7:30 p.m. on May 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and at 2 p.m. on May 3, 4, 10 and 11.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for 18 and under, but they are going fast, according to the theatre. Some performances are sold out. Tickets can be ordered by calling 688-4473 on online at www.peoriaplayers.org.

The show is about an ogre, Shrek, who lives in a swamp that suddenly becomes crowded with fairy tale characters that have been banished there from Duloc by Lord Farquaad. To get his swamp back, Shrek agrees to help Farquaad get the lovely Fiona. But along the way, funny mayhem ensues.

Songs include “Big Bright Beautiful World,” “Don’t Let Me Go,” “I Know It’s Today,” and “When Words Fail.”

“This is a popular show already. A lot of high schools are already doing it, which actually helped us.
 Olson said, explaining that Peoria Players was able to tag on to a couple high school productions (Washington and Illinois Bluffs). They all helped each other by sharing costumes and set pieces.

Most of the costumes were created by Peoria Players volunteers and were built strong enough and flexible enough that they can later be rented by other schools or community theatres. “We put a little more TLC into them than we would have if it was going to be for our show only, then done. But that also made it a more expensive undertaking, which is why we went out and solicited underwriters to help with the costs. A normal show is an expensive undertaking; this was so much more we needed to do that,” Olson said.

One costume Olson and Keltner are especially proud of is that of Lord Farquaad. That character is height challenged so the actor portraying him, Dustin Strickland, will spend the show on his knees. “But the way the costume is built, when you watch it you won’t realize he is on his knees,” Olson said. He added it is the most elaborate costume, with a tunic and cape and skirt that covers the fact the actor is on his knees, all covered with 80 yards of sequins meticulously applied by costumers.

There have been 20 costumers working on this show. “The levels of details put into this show have been quite an undertaking,” he said. “Nothing is too small for Mary and me.”

Another elaborate costume is of the 20-foot dragon, a puppet manipulated by four people that was designed and built by Paul Prest, an engineer at Caterpillar Inc.

Makeup, headed up by Erica Poch and Heather Lindsey, is another large part of the production and includes several prosthetic devices that have to be applied and removed quickly in some cases.

And all the while, he and Keltner have been rehearsing with the cast of 54, many of whom play multiple characters, and a crew of 14 to keep everything moving smoothly. “We have been able to find time to rehearse,” Olson joked.

“We had over 100 people at our auditions and we were blown away by the talent. There were some tough decisions but we are proud of our cast,” he said.

George Maxedon, who has put his rich baritone voice to use in several community theatre shows at Players and Corn Stock, portrays the title role. Mariah Thornton portrays Fiona and Bryan Blanks, a veteran director and performer, is Shrek’s trusty sidekick Donkey.

Susan Somerville Brown is the music director and conductor of an 11-piece orchestra and Danny Fisher is the choreographer. “These are two of the very best in their fields and they’ve been working the cast hard while keeping it fun,” Olson said.


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).