Theatre Under the Stars goes green for Shrek: The Musical

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While you’re enjoying a relaxed patio dinner or stroll around Stanley Park before catching Shrek: The Musical at Theatre Under the Stars this summer, its star, Matt Palmer, will be going through an arduous transformation.

It takes one-and-a-half to two hours for a makeup artist to help him don his huge foam headpiece, numerous prosthetics, and green paint. And as you make your way home, he’ll be spending almost an hour de-ogre-fying in his dressing room.

No, it’s not easy being green. But Palmer, a well-known personality in countless local musicals over the years, is decidedly un-Shrek-like in his utter enthusiasm for it all. Could he ever have pictured himself morphing into a hulking, emerald-hued fairy-tale swamp-dweller for the stage? “Are you kidding? It’s about time!” the affable artist and Shrek movie fan gushes over the phone before rehearsals. “I’ve been in theatre a while and had wigs and mustaches,” he says. “I’ve played women, I’ve used stilts and roller skates. But this doesn’t compare to anything else. I’ve always wanted to try prosthetics, so that’s a neat thing to add to my bucket list.”

At press time, Palmer and his team were still finessing the costume, which requires the slim actor to add quite a bit of poundage. The sheer heat of the burly outfit was making him think ice packs would be required. “It’s the investment in the show,” he concluded of the long process of becoming an ogre, “and I love the show and being in theatre, so I don’t see it as a downside.”

The musical, which first hit Broadway in 2008, follows the story line of the first, blockbuster Shrek movie from 2001 (and William Steig’s 1990 book, Shrek!), complete with Donkey, Princess Fiona, and nonstop fairy-tale send-ups and homages.

Palmer reveals there is a lot of new back story for Shrek himself added to the musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, as well as pop-rock-tinged songs that weren’t in the movie. Expect a few surprises and a fun, pop-up-storybook look to the whole production. It can’t hurt that it all takes place in Malkin Bowl, surrounded by Stanley Park’s own lush, fairy-tale forest.

Palmer, who’s put his stamp on such famous roles as Bobby in Company, Corny Collins in Hairspray, and Jerry Lukowski in The Full Monty, knows that here, he can’t stray too far from the source material in his characterization of the irritable ogre. He’s homed in on the fact that Shrek is a loner and outcast who has to slowly open up to friendship after years of going it solo in the swamp. But he adds: “You have to respect there’s a character that people are really familiar with there and you don’t want to mess with it too much. I’m an artist and I want to show that side of my passion, but at the end of the day I’m there for the audience. I want to fulfill what they came to watch. He’s a character who’s almost iconic: people know who he is; they know he should have a Scottish accent—because, for whatever reason, Mike Myers decided he should have one!”

Returning to the historic Malkin Bowl is like coming full circle for Palmer. In 1996, at 26, he debuted on the TUTS stage as a boy Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.

“That was my first-ever audition for any show,” he remembers. “It was a show I was madly in love with, and it was sort of the show that turned me on to musical theatre.”

From there, Palmer realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, going to school at the local Jennings Institute for Performing Artists, and then making his name at stages across town, like the Arts Club, Firehall Arts Centre, and Carousel Theatre, as musicals made a return.

Of TUTS, he reminisces: “It’s such a unique experience performing at the park, seeing all the names on the [dressing-room] walls that go back to the ’70s.”

Happily, the downtown dweller is able to strap on his Rollerblades to skate his way to Malkin Bowl for the outdoor shows. “Let’s cross our fingers for the good weather, but the last couple days it’s been beautiful and when you’re standing on the stage, looking at sunny weather, and doing a good show...” He trails off, but we’re pretty sure he’s thinking the two-hour makeup routine is well worth the effort—icepacks and all.

Shrek: The Musical alternates with Legally Blonde: The Musical at Malkin Bowl from Friday (July 11) to August 23.

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