Manatee Players stage 'Shrek'

The hit musical features a glowing 20-foot dragon

mclear@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

Carianne Hoff was a little dubious before she headed to Bradenton to work on Shrek.

She's finishing up her advanced degree in puppetry at the University of Connecticut, and as part of her masters project she came here to work with the Manatee Players, with whom she was unfamiliar, on their upcoming production of "Shrek: The Musical."

Her main job was going to be designing and building the show's 20-foot-long singing dragon.

The dragon, which flies above the stage, operated from underneath by four puppeteers, has to lip-synch a song. So it needed a moveable mouth, in addition to its moveable body, tail and wings. It glows under a UV light that helps hide the actors. It's a challenge for performers as well as the designer/builder.

"I was skeptical because it was a high-budget puppet," Hoff said. "It's a $2,000 puppet, but we found a way to make it work."

The Manatee Players production opens today.

The musical, with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsey-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, premiered in 2008. It is based on the popular animated 2001 film "Shrek," which had been adapted from a 1990 picture book called "Shrek!"

The story's about an ogre whose solitary life in a swamp is interrupted when a disparate group of fairy tale characters are banished to the swamp by an evil lord.

Manatee Players have taken on ambitious projects, especially since they moved into the new Manatee Performing Arts Center last year. But "Shrek: The Musical" has presented new demands.

"It's challenging to transfer an animated film to the stage," said Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director for Manatee Players, and the director of this show. "But it's challenging in a different way than 'Les Mis' or 'Miss Saigon.' "

Brian Chunn, a veteran of both "Les Mis" and Miss Saigon," plays the title role in "Shrek."

"I think what makes it a challenge is that you're playing an existing cartoon character," Chunn said. "You have to play a character that everyone knows from the film, but you have to make it real."

The shows presents logistical challenges as well as creative one. Laura Hoffman, who's returning to Manatee Players after a three-year absence, plays both Mama Ogre and Mama Bear.

"The real challenge for me is I have to transform from Mama Ogre to Mama Bear in the space of the ending of a song," she said. "I just have a few seconds to wipe all the green makeup of my face."

Hoff, the puppet-builder, is experience Manatee Players for the first time and she's impressed with what she has seen.

"It was a community theater so I didn't know what to expect," Hoff said. "But everyone is so dedicated, and there's so much talent here."

Details: Feb. 13-March 2, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $27-$37. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.

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