Stage preview: From Broadway ensemble to 'the dude': Going green for Pittsburgh CLO as Shrek
July 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Lukas Poost portrays the title role in an earlier national tour of "Shrek the Musical." A classmate, Rory Donovan, takes on the part when Pittsburgh CLO presents the musical at the Benedum.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rory Donovan and Andre Jordan had met just a few days earlier, but Pittsburgh CLO’s Shrek and Donkey were already finishing each other’s sentences and sharing a bag of chips.
It was lunchtime for the cast of “Shrek the Musical,” and the Friday opening at the Benedum Center, Downtown, was a week away.
‘Shrek the Musical’
Where: Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
When: Friday through July 24, 8 p.m. Tuesday -Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, July 17 (2 p.m. only July 24.)
Tickets: $25-$80; pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666
Mr. Donovan had arrived in Pittsburgh straight out of Broadway’s “Finding Neverland,” where he had been an ensemble member for three years, beginning in workshops. He’ll be making his “Shrek” debut, but this is not his first time as a not-so-jolly green giant — the 6-foot-3 former high school football player appeared as the Monster in a tour of “Young Frankenstein.”
Mr. Jordan is a once and future Donkey, having played the role on tour for a year, and he was already into sidekick mode, to the point where he picked up the big man’s bags when they met.
“It’s ‘Shrek the Musical,’ not ‘Donkey the Musical,’ ” said Mr. Jordan, who kept assuring his new stage partner that he was right on pace within Pittsburgh CLO’s unnervingly short rehearsal period.
“Shrek the Musical” stays close to the 2001 Oscar-winning animated film in most respects — a loner ogre and a motormouth donkey hit the road to rescue the Princess Fiona (Haven Burton, who understudied the role on Broadway) and help save the fairy-tale kingdom. The wickedly clever words of David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori’s exuberant score helped lift the stage show to nine Tony Award nominations in 2009.
When he was attending Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Mr. Donovan recalled that Shrek’s song “Who I’d Be” was a standard for tenors like him.
“Jeanine Tesori is one of the composers in this group called ‘The Smart Set.’ You have Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown. … I love Jeanine Tesori. Her music all sounds like it has its roots in something, it’s all driving toward something,” Mr. Donovan said.
Mr. Jordan, shaking his head in agreement, said, “I’m also a big fan. ‘Caroline or Change’ is my favorite musical of all time. But for me, I knew of ‘Shrek the Musical,’ but I hadn’t seen it or heard it before the first audition [for the tour].”
Neither actor was familiar with Pittsburgh CLO before signing on, and they were marveling at the work of the ensemble preparing three shows at once — rehearsing “Shrek” by day, performing “Damn Yankees” at night and prepping for “Aida” to open two days after “Shrek” closes.
“That keeps you going,” Mr. Donovan said. “The second you might want to say, ‘It’s going too fast,’ it’s like, ‘No, shut up.’ They are into three shows right now.” He was feeling both the pressure and the exhilaration of having left an ensemble to be “the dude,” he said.
“This might sound arrogant to say, but it is fun to come in and say, ‘Well now, I’m the guy,’ ” he admitted.
The ogre and his sidekick have been bonding over a one-degree theater connection that involves their current show. When Mr. Donovan booked the “Young Frankenstein” tour right out of school, his classmate, Lukas Poost, booked “Shrek the Musical” — opposite Mr. Jordan.
“We used to send pictures to each other of our makeup process — I had more makeup, he had more prosthetics,” Mr. Donovan said.
He was “genuinely excited” to go green again despite the long process of getting into character, and Mr. Jordan was likewise ready to once again don a heavy-duty Donkey suit, complete with hooves for hands.
“I am a glutton for punishment and sweat,” he said, laughing. “I did it for a year — the first leg of the non-Equity tour. That original costume was all hand-stitched in leather, so it was heavy but it breathed and it looked great on stage. I just tried this one on and it is adorable, if I do say so myself,” he added, very Donkey-like.
The character originally voiced by Eddie Murphy is a favorite of children in a show that has lots of competition for young fans’ affections — there’s a high-pitched Pinocchio, a crusty Gingerbread Man, a lovelorn dragon …
“I loved when I was on tour because they sold Donkey hoodies as merchandise,” Mr. Jordan said. “There’s nothing that will get you like walking out and seeing a kid wearing your hoodie.”
Mr. Donovan will be scanning the audience for one child in particular.
“This is extra special because it will be the first time my son gets to see me onstage,” Mr. Donovan said, and immediately Mr. Jordan insisted he show a cell-phone video of August, 3, — named for August Wilson — and his brother, 1½-year-old Theodore.
“Getting to have my son finally see me, that’s so special,” Mr. Donovan said. “We’ve been talking for so long that daddy is going to be Shrek.”
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Read more at www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance.com.
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