The national tour of Shrek The Musical, now playing its opening engagement in Chicago, stars Windy City native Eric Petersen as the mean, green ogre. The actor who understudied the role on Broadway (and played Papa Ogre and Straw) is ecstatic about appearing in his hometown.
"It's amazing," he says. "I told an interviewer, 'I know the whole point of an interview is to put things into words, but I can't put into words how excited I am about playing Chicago.' I am so thrilled to be playing for my family, my friends, people that I went to school with, teachers — people who haven't seen me do a thing since I graduated from high school. I'm hoping that what they see is going to be a big leap from what they saw in high school."
Based on William Steig's book and the Dreamworks film, Shrek was written by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) and directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford. Petersen had the opportunity to go on as Shrek in New York, and his debut came unexpectedly and fortuitously the day after he had his put-in. "It was so informative to have run the show in full headpiece and costume," he says. "I'd sung the opening number hundreds of times before, but the first time I sang it with the costume on, I ran out of air. It's so different, because you have about 45 pounds hanging right on your chest. So I learned how to breathe — and got to implement what I learned the next day."
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Although the costume and the remarkable makeup would appear to inhibit a full range of expression, Petersen says that's not the case. "Surprisingly, you can be quite expressive. Your face muscles are exposed, so you can actually use your eyebrows and your eyes and your mouth. And you can do quite a bit with that costume, despite its weight. I work from the outside in, so putting on a costume that makes me look big and scary actually helps me."
The cast of the national tour had six weeks of rehearsals in New York prior to moving on to Chicago, which gave them the opportunity to explore their characters at length.
"I read the book a bunch of times and have seen all four of the movies," says Petersen. "I want to get as much information as I can about a character. In the book, Shrek is just gross and nasty. In the animated movie, they spit-shined him a little bit. He's still an ogre and scares people, but in the book he's a gross, ugly, disgusting ogre. So I try to bring that into the earlier parts of the musical, to show that he has a part in his own story: he's scared people away. He's always put up a big wall. That's just one of the things that I've tried to take from previous source material."
As he embarks on his first starring role, Petersen is also taking on the role of new father. His wife, actress Lisa Marie Morabito, gave birth shortly before the opening. Speaking more than a month earlier, Petersen said, "It's all so exciting. I'm getting an opportunity to play a part that I love so much in a big show, and I'm being blessed with my first child. I'm on cloud nine. It's an embarrassment of riches."