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Shrek

The cast of ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Putting on “Shrek The Musical” is no easy feat. There are countless characters, huge set requirements, fantastical costumes and puppets both small and … dragon-sized. Theatre Three’s bold production of “Shrek” takes these challenges in stride, resulting in a masterful production befitting the scope and size of its Broadway counterpart.

Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, is deserving of great praise as he takes on the task with his usual grace and theatrical virtuosity. His versatility as a director is to be commended, such range and vision is an unusually rare thing. As a frequent spectator of his work, I’m beyond grateful that he makes every show a thrilling new experience, and his interpretation of “Shrek” is certainly no exception to that rule.

The production is filled with show-stopping numbers (21 of them!) and every song outdoes the previous. From the leads to the ensemble, each cast member delivers a spectacular performance worthy of the show’s Tony-nominated score.

One of my directors growing up would often remind me that a successful show lets people “leave their brains at the door”  — it’s an escape from reality, and even the slightest mistake can upend that magical facade. This is why this production of “Shrek” was so uniquely satisfying. There was not a moment when I wasn’t fully swept up by the show’s phenomenal cast and harmonies.

Our title character Shrek, played by Theatre Three newcomer Danny Stalter, was an absolute treat. Stalter plays upon the Mike Myers’ legacy but forges his own unique style that is both endearing and hugely rewarding. This dynamic character undergoes development in nearly every scene. This progression is captured beautifully by Stalter whose well-conceived performance only enhances the emotional moments. Shrek, while grotesque and green on the outside, has a beautiful voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.

His partner-in-crime is a jackass, and by that I mean Donkey. Played with sass and master comedic timing by Bobby Montaniz, this hard not to love character steals the show and often! Admittedly his performance of “Make a Move” has been stuck in my head for hours, and I’m not complaining because it’s still making me laugh.

Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In theater they say “there are no small roles, just small people,” which bring us to Lord Farquaad, the Lord of Duloc, played to perfection by Matt Senese. This miniature-sized dictator had me laughing so hard, I’m surprised they didn’t kick me out of the theater. Senese makes perfect use of his tiny costume legs, dancing, jumping and kick-lining fearlessly. As if being funny weren’t enough, he also has a voice that is sure to wow!

Jenna Kavaler, a Theatre Three veteran, plays Princess Fiona flawlessly. Having just watched her performance in “Beau Jest,” I was amazed at her range as an actress. She is funny and wildly entertaining, especially during one particularly gassy sequence with Shrek. Her voice is beautiful but shines best during her three-part harmony with her younger Fiona counterparts played by Leah Bloom and Ella Watts. Their performance of “I Know It’s Today” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in local theater.

Steve McCoy choreographs the show to perfection, while Jeffrey Hoffman masterfully manages musical direction. Robert W. Henderson Jr. lights up the show with expert design and Patrick Grossman brings to life some fantastic fairy tale costumes. All in all, this family-friendly production is the perfect way to spend a weekend! If you don’t believe me, see below for a few notes from my little cousins who joined me for this special review!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Shrek the Musical” through June 25. Evening shows begin at a family-friendly time of 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

All are invited to a Director’s Dinner on the Second Stage on June 5 at 5:45 p.m. with Jeffrey Sanzel for a fascinating behind the scenes look of the making of “Shrek” following the 3 p.m. show. Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $53 adults, $48 seniors and students, $45 children ages 6 to 12.

For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler
From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler

KID CRITIQUES:

Aida (age 7½): I loved when Donkey shaked his booty at Shrek! I liked the dragon because she had a nice voice!

Liam (age 5½): My favorite part is seeing Donkey! He’s really funny! Especially when he fell from the tree and made a little wall!

Maddox (age 5½): Loved the tap dancing and when Shrek kicks! And when Shrek found out Fiona’s secret!

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

Armed with hockey-grade shin and knee guards, Patchogue resident Matt Senese is ready to hit, not the ice, but the stage as Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s upcoming Mainstage production of “Shrek the Musical.”

For those who may not be familiar with the 2001 DreamWorks movie or 2009 Broadway musical, Lord Farquaad is the diminutive archenemy of Shrek and friends. Senese, who jokes that he is “5 feet 7 inches with a lot of sleep,” will play the role on his knees in order for the audience to get the full effect of just how small his royal nuisance is. The shin and knee guards under his costume protect his lower legs from injuries.

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The seasoned actor, who is also a fourth-grade teacher at Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School in Islip, has appeared in over 300 local productions as well as regional theater outside of New York. Recently, Senese took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his participation in the upcoming production.

How did you feel when you learned that you got the part?
I was very excited! Jeff (Sanzel), the artistic director, cast me before it was even announced. He asked me about it last year. So, I’ve known for a year that I was going to be doing it which gave me time to … learn it and kind of get used to dancing on my knees.

How are rehearsals going?
They’re great. I think it’s going to be a wonderful show. It’s a very hard working group.

Do you have a favorite number in the musical?
The favorite thing that I do is a song called “What’s Up, Duloc” where it’s kind of a … Las Vegas number, so it’s got back-up singers and dancers. But, I’m doing it on my knees with these tiny legs so it’s very funny. I think my favorite song in the show though is one that I’m not in, and it’s called “Freak Flag.” It’s a song about just being yourself — everyone is different; nobody is perfect. So just let your freak flag fly.

For you is that the main message of ‘Shrek’?
Absolutely. It’s a great musical to bring the whole family to because it’s a musical that celebrates differences. Also, the wonderful thing about this story is it’s not your typical fairy tale. Usually the princess kisses the frog, and the frog turns into a handsome prince. It’s a musical about an ogre who falls in love with a princess and at the end of the story, she turns into an ogress. They’re both ogres at the end of the show, and happy to be ogres because it’s not about looks, it’s about love.

Do you have plans after the musical ends at Theatre Three?
No, I don’t. I’m just going to take it easy. I think after “Shrek” I’m going to rest up and enjoy myself, and then in the fall, look for something to do.

Do you have anything to share with locals who want to act?
I think people who live on Long Island are very lucky in the fact that there are so many theaters. We’re lucky. There are other places you go to, and they really don’t have any kind of local theater and they have to wait until tours come through. We live in a place that really has a lot of art. I think if that’s your passion, then there is a lot opportunity for it on Long Island.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this production of “Shrek the Musical”?
First and foremost, I hope they’ll be entertained. I hope they’ll leave whistling a tune from the show because I think the score is really wonderful. Sometimes you go to see a show and you really can’t whistle any of the tunes. This show you can take so much of that with you. The music is very catchy; it’s very inspirational.
And, I hope that they just get the message. The message of “Shrek” is to just be yourself. There’s no such thing as perfection in the world. We’re led to believe…as children we’re taught these fairy tales, but really nothing in life is a fairy tale, and that is what I think “Shrek” shows. It’s about love. It’s about love and accepting who you are and accepting everyone else for who they are.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Shrek the Musical” from May 21 to June 25. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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