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Get in touch with your inner ogre!
Unionville Theatre Company presents Shrek The Musical

article and photos by Grant Weaver, GuidingStar.ca   

(Feb. 17, 2014)   For it’s thirty-fifth season, the Unionville Theatre Company offers you a chance to get in touch with your inner ogre!
          The youth-oriented troupe presents Shrek The Musical at FLATO Markham Theatre, opening on Wednesday, February 19 and running till Sunday, February 23.
          With music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical had a long run on Broadway and is much-loved, with its message of inclusiveness and acceptance, its lovable ogre and its hilarious array of fairy tale misfits.
          UTC’s production is at the finishing touches. Sunday, February 16 was to be a big day of final rehearsals for the forty-member cast and seventeen-piece orchestra at Crosby Arena in Unionville while, at FLATO Markham Theatre, the set building crew would be hard at work installing the set.
          So, I dropped in to see, and hear, how things were going. First, to Crosby Arena.
          Director Martin Buote was doubly busy, directing the performers, but also standing in as Shrek himself, while actor Hudson Scott worked with the costume design people at
FLATO Markham Theatre to adjust his all-important mask.
          Martin has been active, as both actor and director, in professional and community theatre for over forty years, including a number of musicals, and was the perfect choice to direct UTC’s Shrek The Musical. Commuting in three times a week from Bolton, Martin told me it has been worth every minute.
          “As a director, and as an actor,” he said, “I always go a little bit big. So, it has been fun for me having something that is a fairy tale, where everything can be as large as you want it to be. And everybody has a chance to play!”
          Directing a cast that ranges in age from ten to, well, a few multiples thereof, presents challenges but, for Martin, teaching the arts of the theatre is the main goal.
          “We’re not just putting on a show. It’s about a learning experience for the kids,” he said. “I’m teaching them the little tricks of the trade, scene study, and how to bring the characters to life.”
          And the show has a great message, using role reversal to reveal that there is something good inside everyone, no matter how strange or different they may appear.
          “We all carry around this persona, and a gruff exterior, sometimes,” he said.  “And even kids, sometimes can have this tough exterior that is difficult to get through.  But, it’s finding that heart inside that is the lesson here.  We can all be loved by someone, no matter who we are.”
          The full rehearsal began at 1 p.m., but musical director Doug Manning and the orchestra were there, as every Sunday, at 11 a.m. to practise the music on their own.
          As the musicians then grabbed a bite to eat while they awaited the arrival of the full cast, I chatted with keyboard player Odette Wells. She and her husband Rob Wells, who plays the soprano sax, are in their eleventh UTC show.
          I asked her why she kept coming back.
          “I love it,” she said. “I love seeing the cast members grow, seeing them mature over the years.”
          During the Sunday rehearsals at Crosby, the orchestra plays alongside the cast in the large second-floor hall. But during the performances at FLATO Markham Theatre, they will be in the pit, under the stage, and will rely on conductor Doug Manning to be their eyes.
          “We’re very confined,” she laughed.  “At the end of the week, we are all so much closer!  We don’t really see the show, with all the costumes and everything, until we see the video, which comes out about a month later.”
           Doug has been the musical director at UTC for many years. That’s a lot of performances under his belt, but he’s particularly excited about this year’s show.
          “Although I’d seen the movies, I hadn’t seen the Shrek stage musical before,” he said, “but I quickly realized what a fantastic show this is going to be. Great music, great cast, great writing, immensely funny, and a lot of fun, I think, for the performers and the audience.”
          The humour of the song lyrics works at different levels.
          “The more you know about musicals,” Doug said, “the funnier it is, because they have blatantly stolen things from other shows. We’ve found quotes so far from everything from Chorus Line to Sibelius’ Finlandia. It reminds me of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, the old TV show. The kids enjoyed it on one level, and the adults enjoyed it on a completely different level. But they’re both authentic experiences.”
          The lyrics interact with the music, rhythm and beat in many challenging ways.
          Doug explained. “There are a lot of spots where we have to be careful that the punch line doesn’t get covered up by the instruments. So, it’s one of the things that we cover in rehearsals, getting the comedic timing. In this particular show, the orchestra is almost as much a character as some of the people on stage. We have to support the jokes by our timing, just as the people on stage do.”
          Val Ovtcharov is choreographer. Val choreographed UTC’s Cats in 2011 and directed and c
horeographed Fame in 2012.
          In designing his choreography, Val said he prefers not to study any videos of other productions of the show.
          “I listen to the music, and make my own take on it,” he said. “And then I discuss with the director what directions he wants the movements to go in, where on stage he wants the action to be.”
          This year, Val has enjoyed the assistance of Sydney Keir, as assistant choreographer, and of Cassandra Schultz as dance captain.
          As vocal director, Cheryl Cline finds Shrek the Musical to have one of the hardest scores of any of the shows the company has taken on.
          What challenges did the songs present?
          “There are a lot of harmony parts,” she said. “Usually you get two or three harmonies, stacked. Here, in a lot our numbers, we have six harmonies. And lots of in-and-out parts, bits and pieces, little solo lines. And that continuity is hard. It takes a lot of practise to get those songs down.”
          Cheryl is thrilled at how much the kids, already so talented, have developed since the start of rehearsals last September.  
          “Even in vocal warm-up,” she said, “you can tell how much stronger as singers they are.”
          Does the humour of the lines present a challenge?
          “It does, because you have to deliver the line clearly, still in pitch, and still with the right sense of humour backing it.”
          Like the other directors, Cheryl also enjoys the many moments that are stolen from other shows, the “parodies” as she calls them.
          “Even down to the last line, when the Gingerbread Man, with broken legs, says ‘God bless us, everyone’, just like Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.”
          Let’s meet some of the cast.
          Stephanie Birrell calls her part as Fiona “a dream role” but has a comic take on how she was chosen for the part.
          “I play a bi-polar character, which is a lot of fun, and my family teases me that it’s a very appropriate role for me!”
          Certainly, Fiona is a not your typical female romantic lead character. She has a lot of edges to her.
           I asked Stephanie what she liked about the music.
          “The music is a challenge,” she said, “but it’s really catchy, a lot of fun to sing. It’s different from some of those musicals where you want to just sound pretty all the time. You can put a lot of character into your voice.”
          I asked her about the hilarious scene in which Shrek and Fiona discover their common fascination with bodily noises. How are you going to handle that scene?
          “Well, it will definitely be pre-recorded!” she laughed. “We want the show to be authentic, but not that authentic!”
          Among the roles that Stephanie has played was the Baker’s Wife in Into The Woods with Aurora Performing Arts Group in 2009. That’s where she became close friends with David Sissons who played Cindarella’s prince. David is again a cast mate, now as Farquaad in Shrek the Musical.
          David’s last show with UTC was in 2008 as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and is excited to be back working with the company.
          I asked David how he would describe Farquaad, and he also had a humorous theory about how he got the part.
          “He’s a very arrogant character, so a lot of people tell me it’s type-casting.”
          But Farquaad has a complicated side.
          “He’s a lot of fun. He’s got a lot of different sides to him. He’s up and down like a rollercoaster.”
          To add to the challenge, Farquaad is a dwarf character and David has to perform the entire show on his knees.
          “I’m six foot four, the tallest member of the company, and I play the shortest character in the show!” he laughed.
          Does he ever rehearse standing up, just to give himself a rest?
          “I tried standing once, for a rehearsal, but I found it was weird. I just couldn’t get into the character’s space. So, I double up on the kneepads, just to make sure I’m comfortable.”
          The role of Donkey is played by Jeffrey Bolton who we last saw in Unionville Theatre Company’s Peter Pan in 2009 when he played Captain Hook. Since then, he lived in B.C. for four years but is back, living in Toronto, and working in Markham.
          Jeffrey describes Donkey as the “comic relief and scene stealer of the show” and is enjoying this high-energy part very much. Donkey breaks the mold at times when he steps away from the other characters and talks directly to the audience.
          What does Donkey represent?
          “He is the shining example of the best friend,” Jeff said. “Even when you are not his best friend, he is still your best friend. I like that.”
          When I got a few minutes with Rob Cline, the stage manager, I mentioned that I had seen a lot of new faces among the cast this year.
          “We’ve had a big turnover, a kind of changing of the guard,” he said. “Some of our main leads from previous years have decided to try some other ventures, but they will help out during show week and stay involved with us.”
          The artistic team is thrilled with the new people who have come out.
          “They’ve definitely got energy for the theatre,” Rob said, “and the excitement is getting to everybody. And, they’re seeing some of our traditions for the first time. And it’s really cute.”
          When the rehearsal at Crosby Arena ends at 4 p.m., Rob reviews with the cast that they will be needed later in the day at FLATO Markham Theatre to try on their costumes.
          At the theatre, director Martin Buote, and assistant choreographer Sydney Keir, take the opportunity right away to rehearse on stage the movements of the exciting, but logistically very tricky, Dragon and Donkey scene. Now all the participants can be there: Sophie van Dalen who plays Dragon; Jeffrey Bolton as Donkey; the giant Dragon puppet itself, all fifteen feet of it from head to tail; and the five puppeteers who, from underneath, will animate the huge effigy--John Cullen, David Scott, Quinton Neufeldt, Isabelle Gartha and Carson Bury.
          Yes, that’s the same Quinton Neufeldt who played the Candy Man in UTC’s Willy Wonka in 2010.  
          Suddenly, I find myself face to face with a green-faced ogre, or rather, with Hudson Scott. He has spent the afternoon working on the ogre mask which is so much a part of the character and depiction of Shrek. It was made individually for him but has presented a number of problems: how to make sure that he can breath, that is important; how to create enough opening at the ears so he can hear the other actors. Also, the sound engineer had to resolve how to mike him.  Once the mask is on, it doesn’t come off again till it’s time to go home. In fact, the mask is the work of a specialist in theatrical “prosthetics”, Kyle Doust.
          So, needless to say, I interviewed Hudson in his mask. This was quite a change from last year, when I found Hudson busily working with the crew setting up the castle for Once Upon A Mattress. And the last time I saw Hudson on stage was in 2007 in UTC’s The Music Man.
          What did he enjoy most about playing Shrek?
          “I like the amount of emotional contrast he shows from the beginning to the end,” he told me. “And the variety of the music. He sings everything from love ballads to pop songs.”
          How would he sum up the message of Shrek The Musical?
          “I think it’s as simple as ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’,” he said. “Most people view ogres as big scary creatures. But there is a softer, more tender side to Shrek that you wouldn’t expect.”
          And the same can be said for Fiona. It is going to be a treat for the audience to see Hudson perform, along with Stephanie Birrell, “I think I got you beat”, a song in which each of them claims to have been more hard-done-by than the other.
          “Although they appear, to each other, to be very different, they discover in that song the common ground they have.”
          I had this conversation with Hudson in the same large room into which all the show costumes had been transported and hung.  At a table, three volunteers worked at sewing machines putting on some final touches.  Cast members scurried about, trying on costumes, and awaiting the approval of the volunteers. In the middle of it all was costume co-ordinator Carlene Flynn.
          Because most of the cast play more than one role, some even three or four, there are over 130 costumes, with several performers requiring complete costume changes two, three and even four times.
          Speaking of wearing many hats, Carlene is also co-producer of the show, and President of the UTC board.
          The moving-in day at FLATO Markham Theatre is also, of course, the culmination of the work of the set design and set building crew.
          Set designer, and co-producer, Simon Cantrill explained that the main scenes requiring set pieces were the swamp, and the castle, and both pieces needed to be moveable. So, the crew made them as one single structure that could be rotated to show one side or the other as the need arose. There are several smaller moveable pieces as well.
          UTC is very grateful for the support and assistance they receive every year from Shell Lumber and Thornhill Towing.
          As for his volunteer workforce, Simon, tongue in cheek, lamented that two of his best builders had left him this year ... to be on stage! ... one of them being Hudson Scott, now Shrek, and the other, Eric Schultz, who plays both Papa Ogre and Papa Bear.
          Families play a big part in the Unionville Theatre Company, and the Schultz clan provides a good example. The whole family is involved. On Sunday, Paula, Eric’s wife, was busy helping install the set, along with their son Josh. Their daughter Cassandra is in the cast as one of the Three Blind Mice.
          I asked Paula, how did all this begin?
          “It started with Cassandra,” she told me, “and her love for theatre. She decided she was going to try out for Fame. So, when she got a part in Fame, then they were asking for volunteers. Both my husband Eric, and my son Josh, love the construction side of things, and I joined backstage in the green room. We did that for two years. Then Eric decided to join the cast. And he got a part, so Josh and I took over the backstage construction part of it all. “
          Has Cassandra been mentoring Eric?
          “Yes, things are a little reversed at home. Eric has relied on Cassandra to teach him a lot of the dance steps.”
          Have you never thought of going on stage yourself?
          Paula laughed. “No, I don’t think I would help the show any, if I was actually on stage! I can’t sing. I have two left feet, so .... no, that doesn’t help!”
          Then, where did Cassandra get her talent?
          “Eric used to do acting in high school, many years ago,” she said. “So, I think those genes came from him!”
          Down the hallway, just outside the door to the stage, the many props were arranged methodically on long tables. Flora MacDonald, along with Isabelle Gartha and Reanna Merlin, are coordinating the props.
          Reanna’s family is another example of how the whole household can be involved. Her father Jim Merlin helped with set construction, along with her mother Andrea who does a lot of set painting. Reanna’s sister Jasmine is in the cast, also as one of the Three Blind Mice.
          I guess a lot of dinner conversation is about the show, I ventured.
          “Yeah, my sister is constantly singing!” Reanna laughed. “In the morning, afternoon, even at the dinner table! My Mom is driving back and forth to Markham Fairgrounds (where the set construction takes place), or dropping Jasmine off to rehearsals.”
          It’s now about six thirty in the evening, and in their booth at the back of the theatre, the sound and lighting designers, Chris MacBride and Vince Rotondi, are focused on the important tech work. This is a part of the Sunday moving-in that requires great patience and attention to detail.
          So, let’s leave them to it and go back and see if we can pull Carlene Flynn away for a moment.
          She wanted first of all to tell our readers about this year’s corporate sponsors whose support is so essential to the Unionville Theatre Company: EasyPeasy Patches, My Apartment, The Village Grocer, Royal Taxi/Royal Limousine, Headlines Salon, author (and UTC orchestra member) Heather Wardell, and the Gartha Family.
          Wishing, in turn, to give back to the community, UTC has donated a hundred tickets for each of the Wednesday and Thursday shows to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, 360Kids, and to several local churches, thus giving a chance to enjoy live theatre to people who otherwise could not.
          Carlene spoke of another project that is near to the hearts of Unionville Theatre Company and its board and many volunteers: to find a permanent home for the company. For this they need the support of the City of Markham, to which Carlene made a formal presentation in January. Let’s hope there will soon be a happy ending to the story.
          The lineup of cast members waiting for Carlene’s costume attention was starting to grow so I let her get back to work.
          What a hive of activity!
          Monday and Tuesday evenings would be dress rehearsals, with sets, lighting, sound, and special effects. And Wednesday ... opening night!
          Unionville Theatre Company’s Shrek The Musical promises to be one of the company’s best productions yet. It features an outstanding cast, performing an endlessly entertaining story. And, to top it off, it has a feel-good message of inclusiveness that will leave you with a warm heart. It is indeed “A Big Bright Beautiful World”!.


For Show Details click here.
To learn more about the Unionville Theatre Company, clear here.

 

Cast of Characters

Shrek ....................... Hudson Scott
Fiona ....................... Stephanie Birrell
Donkey .................... Jeffrey Bolton
Lord Farquaad.......... David Sisson
Dragon...................... Sophie van Dalen
Young Fiona ............ Hailey McLaughlin
Teen Fiona ............... Sabrina Boyle

Fairy Tale Characters

Pinocchio .........................
.... Paulina Luciani
Gingerbread Man/Kitchen Fairy .... Janelle Stewart
Three Blind Mice ................. Jasmine Merlin, Cassandra Schultz,
                                               
Lindsay Sutherland
Three Little Pigs .................. Sabrina Amin, Steven Cline,
                                               Jessamyn McAllister
Mama Ogre/Mama Bear ...... Teresa Fitzpatrick-Gartha
Papa Ogre/Papa Bear .....
...... Eric Schultz
Baby Shrek ....................
...... Philip Marchand
Pied Piper/Puss & Boots ..... Parisima Baha
Fairy Godmother ................ Alyssa Hurlburt
Sugar Plum Fairy ................ Sage Brady
Wicked Witch ..................... Catherine Gardner
Wolf .................................... Stefan Porfirio
Ugly Duckling .................... Zoe Michalos
Peter Pan ............................. Mia Liberatore
White Rabbit ....................... Ariyena Sorani
Shoemaker’s Elf .................. May He Tesoro
Fairy/Dwarf ......................... Mia Ergir
Mad Hatter .......................... Maddie Badun
Pirate ................................... Shayla Fullerton
Tooth Fairy .......................... Natalie Nanninga
Humpty Dumpty .................. Lizza Ocampo
Spider .................................. Mikaela Rotterman
Baby Bear ............................ Katya Williams
Lady in Waiting ................... Devira Thomas
Guards .................................. Emil Marchand, Philip Marchand,
                                               Jack O’Neil
Ensemble ............................. Sabrina Amin, Maddie Badun, Parisima Baha,
Sabrina Boyle, Sage Brady, Steven Cline, Mia Ergir, Teresa Fitzpatrick-Gartha, Shayla Fullerton, Alyssa Hurlburt, Catherine Gardner, Mia Liberatore, Paulina Luciani, Emil Marchand, Philip Marchand, Jessamyn McAllister, Hailey McLaughlin, Jasmine Merlin, Zoe Michalos, Natalie Nanninga, Lizza Ocampo, Jack O’Neil, Stefan Porfirio, Mikaela Rotterman, Cassandra Schultz, Eric Schultz, Janelle Stewart, Ariyena Sorani, Lindsay Sutherland, May He Tesoro, Devira Thomas, Sophie van Dalen, Katya Williams
Puppeteers ....................... David Scott, Carson Bury, Susan Bury, John Cullens, Isabelle Gartha, Quinton Neufeldt

Artistic Team

Director ............................... Martin Buote
Choreographer .................... Val Ovtcherov
Musical Director ................. Doug Manning
Vocal Director .................... Cheryl Cline
Assistant Choreographer .... Sydney Keir
Dance Captain .................... Cassandra Schultz
Costume Designer .............. Carlene Flynn
Set Designer ....................... Simon Cantrill
Lighting Designer .............. Vince Rotondi
Sound Designer .................. Chris MacBride
Stage Manager .................... Robert Cline
Producers ............................ Simon Cantrill,
                                              Carlene Flynn

The Orchestra

Flute, Piccolo ................... Judith Thornton
Flute ................................ Skye Sweet, Anna MacEachern
Alto Sax, Clarinet, Soprano Sax ...................... Rob Wells
Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet, Baritone Sax, Clarinet ........ Vittorio Polsoni
Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet ........... Gord Neill
Trombone ........................ Ernie Devenyi
Bass Trombone ............... Ron Robbins
Horn ................................ Trish Beck, Tom Fleming
Keyboard ......................... Cindy Ma, Odette Wells
Guitar ............................... Norm MacLeod, Don Wahamaa
Bass ................................. Brian Kruschel
Drums .............................. Heather Wardell
Percussion ....................... Milan Chvostek


The Production Team

Assistant Stage Managers ........ David Bertram, Courtney Keir
Props Co-Ordinator .................. Flora MacDonald, Isabelle Gartha
Props Volunteers ...................... Andrea Merlin, Kathy Sutherland, Barb Kwolek
Jordan Hewins, Paul Potter, Simon Cantrill, Mike Marchand
Prosthetics ................................ Kyle Doust
Make-up Supervisors ............... Alanna Stewart, Andrea Stewart
Costume Volunteers ................. Audrey Colphon-Reynolds, Jessie Gilonna,
Elizabeth Marchand, Carolyn Badun, Louise Bonnycastle, Kathy Sutherland, Michelle Brady-McDermott, Paul Potter, David Bertram
Set Construction, Painting
& Backstage Volunteers ........... Connie Amin, Carolyn Badun, Solveig Barber,
Nicole Bondoi, Carson Bury, Susan Bury, Warren Bury,
Sharon Chandran, Tara Chandran, Judy Cheong, Emma Cheuk,
Zoe Chiu, Breanne D’Aquiar, Lene Ergir, Isabelle Gartha,
Julia Gartha, Jessie Gilonna, Jordan Hewins, Neil Hewins,
Sydney Keir, Elizabeth Marchand, Mike Marchand, Remi Marchand,
Shirley May, Madeline Mason, Michelle McDermott-Brady,
Heidi McLaughlin, Tia McLaughlin, Andrea Merlin, Jim Merlin,
Reanna Merlin, Dawn Porfirio, Paul Potter, Morgan Potter,
Alexandria Samson, Joshua Schultz, Paula Schultz, David Scott,
Mary Sorani, Alanna Stewart, Andrea Stewart, Amanda Stewart,
Lance Stewart, Kathy Sutherland, Christopher Thomas,
Anthony van Dalen, Michael van Dalen, Michelle van Dalen,
Michelle Yuan, Hugh Wallis, David Wallis,
Graphic Design ...................... Barbra Kwolek
Photography .......................... Farshad Amin



 



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