August 12, 2008

‘Shrek’ Role Turns Actor into an Ogre

By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY

It's not easy being green, especially when you're swathed in makeup and saddled with prosthetics.

Actor Brian d'Arcy James figures it took him about 2 hours and 15 minutes to make his first transformation into the title character of Shrek: The Musical.

He has repeated that process "a handful of times" and is down to less than 2 hours. "We'll streamline it a bit more as we move forward," he says.

The clock is ticking. Shrek begins a pre-Broadway run Thursday at 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle and officially opens there Sept. 10. Based on William Steig's children's book Shrek! and the first of the three DreamWorks animated films it inspired, the production then moves to New York to the Broadway Theatre to begin previews Nov. 8 in preparation for a Dec. 14 opening.

To turn the boyishly handsome James into Steig's homely ogre, director Jason Moore enlisted veteran costume and scenic designer Tim Hatley, whose credits span film, opera and theater, including Monty Python's Spamalot.

"Usually, my job is to give a sense of theatricality, not necessarily to copy" an adapted character's original traits to a T, Hatley says. "But Shrek is so known and loved that we realized we were fighting a losing battle."

Any noticeable departure "would have left a lot of people disappointed, especially little people."

Hatley's concerns were expressivity and practicality, in that order. "Even though Shrek is an ogre, there has to be an element of humanity," Moore says.

Makeup designers Naomi Donne and Michael Marino used "film-quality prosthetics" to ensure James "has full control over his facial expressions," Hatley says.

For comfort, Shrek's costume was fashioned with "head vents and channels to allow sweat to drip out." The front of the costume "pops away," so that during a short break James "can get air to his chest quickly. And we cut hundreds of holes in the padding to allow air to go through, like Swiss cheese."

With no bathroom break except for intermission, when James can get out of his suit entirely, he has to drink with discretion. "There's no escape route in it, if you will," he says.

"Ogres have very large bladders, but I'm definitely going to be mindful of my coffee intake." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>