It will be a "Shrek" of a show

Kelrik Productions brings a musical take on the grumpy green ogre to the Spanos Theatre stage

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 4, 2013 

San Luis Obispo’s Kelrik Productions is ending its 2013 season on a high note.

Kelrik salutes the summer with “Shrek the Musical,” a family-friendly fairy-tale romp. The show runs July 12 through 21 at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.

“We’re the first (company) to bring it to the Central Coast,” said Artistic Director Erik Austin, noting that Kelrik was also responsible for introducing local theatergoers to “High School Musical” and “Pinkalicious.” “It’s super fun creating something that you haven’t seen a million times in other theaters.”

Choreographer Joe Ogren and music director Lacey McNamara said the musical is sure to appeal to fans of the 2000 animated movie “Shrek.”

“It’s exciting to take something that people have known and loved for so long and put it on stage in a fresh new way,” Ogren said, describing “Shrek” as “fun and creative and silly.” “I think it’s going to be great.”

An iconic ogre

When Austin saw the Broadway version of “Shrek” six years ago, “I thought, ‘This is a total Kelrik show,’ ” he recalled. “Everybody loves Shrek. He’s an icon.”

Like the film, “Shrek the Musical” centers on Shrek (Christian Clarno), a grumpy green ogre whose swamp is invaded by a swarm of fairytale characters. They’ve been exiled from Duloc by its pint-sized dictator, Lord Farquaad (Austin).

Encouraged by Pinocchio (Ogren) and his friends, Shrek sets off to see Farquaad — picking up a talkative sidekick, Donkey (Redzuan Abdul Rahim), along the way.

Farquaad agrees to restore peace and quiet to Shrek’s swamp on one condition: The ogre must rescue his future bride, Princess Fiona (Tabatha S. Skanes), from a castle guarded by a fire-breathing Dragon (Danielle Mendoza).

Could Shrek be the courageous knight destined to free Fiona from her tower and break her mysterious curse?

Designed to appeal to both adults and kids, “Shrek the Musical” — which premiered on Broadway in late 2008 — pairs potty humor and parodies of Disney films and Broadway musicals with a heart-warming message of love and acceptance.

“It’s all about being who you truly are,” Austin explained. “You can act gruff, but you really have a lot of love in your heart.”

Whereas the movie featured pop hits by the likes of Joan Jett, Smash Mouth and The Proclaimers, “Shrek the Musical” only has one recognizable chart-topper — “I’m a Believer.” The rest of the songs were written by lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”) and composer Jeanine Tesori (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”).

According to McNamara, the musical features such pop-rock showstoppers as the anthem “Freak Flag,” the sassy love song “Forever” and the silly duet “I Think I Got You Beat,” in which Shrek and Fiona swap stories about their miserable childhoods before engaging in a battle of burps and farts.

Austin prefers the comic number “Morning Person,” which finds Fiona greeting the day “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”-style.

“She sings to a bird and it blows up, then she picks ups a deer and swings it around and breaks off its antlers, yet she’s acting all innocent,” Austin said, noting that the song stands in sharp contrast with Shrek’s defiant “Build a Wall.” “It’s got a good range of sensibility and humor.”

According to the crew, “Shrek the Musical” offers some significant technical challenges, from complicated costumes designed by Kathleen Forster and Keith Wetzel to a 25-foot-long dragon puppet created by Ethereal FX of San Luis Obispo. The production includes lighting design by David Beals and set design by Mark Hughes.

“It’s just a huge undertaking,” Ogren said. “None of us expected to be involved in such a huge musical with so many scenes and musical (numbers) and costumes. It’s really a monster of a musical.”

However, since Kelrik is the first local company to tackle a stage version of “Shrek,” “It gives us a lot of free rein to be creative and try things,” he added. “We’re totally making it our own.”

Looking for a place

Adding to the challenge is the fact that Kelrik Productions is staging “Shrek the Musical” while searching for a new home.

The company bid farewell to its home of seven years, Unity of San Luis Obispo, after the church’s board of directors decided this spring to sell the 13,000-square-foot building and the 69,696-square-foot lot on which it stands.

“Urinetown,” which closed June 29, was Kelrik’s final show at the Southwood Drive space.

“It’s sad because we’ve been together for so long. … They’ve allowed us to do such amazing things,” Austin said, from kid-friendly musicals to more mature offerings. (Last year, the company launched the Kelrik After Dark series, which features shows intended for an 18-and-older audience.)

Still, the task of staging theatrical productions in a church did have its drawbacks, Austin said, such as having to strike sets in order to set up for church services every Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

“Although it’s been our home, it’s not perfect,” he said.

Austin’s “dream building” would feature plentiful parking, lofty ceilings and stadium-style seating for 150 to 200 people, he said.

He hopes to find a new performance space before Kelrik’s new season begins in January.

“Change is good (and) I’ve had a lot of change in the last year and a half,” Austin said. “I’m just trying to keep a positive attitude and know that some things happen for a reason.”

"Shrek the Musical"
7 p.m. July 12, 13, 19 and 20; 2 p.m. July 14 and 21
Spanos Theatre, Cal Poly
756-4849 or

Do you have a home for Kelrik Productions?
Contact Artistic Director Erik Austin at 540-8817 or

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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