Looking Glass to stage 'Shrek the Musical'

News-DemocratSeptember 26, 2013 

Russ Reidelberger's Shrek costume is so hot, he has to wear a vest with ice packs underneath it.

It's heavily padded, especially in the shoulders and stomach.

"I'm about 6-1 and 230 pounds, so I'm kind of the perfect body size for the part," said Reidelberger, 37, of Belleville. "But (Shrek) is supposed to be bigger and more intimidating than everybody else, so I still need the padding."

Reidelberger leads a cast of about 50 people in "Shrek the Musical," which will run this weekend and next at the Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon. It's the first show of the community theater's 40th season.

The musical is based on the 2001 computer-animated, fantasy-comedy movie, a hit with both children and adults. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won for Best Costume Design in 2009.

"I've never directed anything like it," said Looking Glass director Don Urban. "Obviously, we have a cartoon situation that has been translated into something for the Broadway stage. It's a whole different world."

Townsfolk from the Kingdom of Duloc are joined by old fairytale characters, ranging from Pinocchio to the Three Little Pigs, Humpty Dumpty to the Mad Hatter, Peter Pan to the Gingerbread Man.

These "freaks" end up crashing Shrek's peaceful, isolated swamp to escape the wrath of a fairytale-hating prince.

Urban was almost surprised by how much he liked the stage show's music, which wasn't part of the movie.

"It's really good music," he said. "It's very hummable. Once you get it in your head, it stays there."

Shrek is a grouchy, terrifying green ogre with a loud, annoying Donkey (played by Mitch Ellis) as a sidekick. He agrees to rescue Princess Fiona from captivity in exchange for removal of the fairytale creatures from his swamp.

Urban likes the story's underlying message of tolerance. It's also hilarious at times, poking fun at Shrek's ogre-like habits.

"There's an entire song focused on farting and belching," Urban said. "It's a very cute, humorous song. I actually bought a fart-making machine at Spencer Gifts. It's remote-controlled. You can fire it from 100 feet away.

"There is no belch machine," he said. "We had to lift those off videotapes."

Reidelberger is an English teacher and co-coach of the speech and acting team at Belleville West High School.

Shrek has been a challenging role, requiring him to speak with a Scottish accent and sing songs with a very broad range.

Reidelberger's wife, Leigh, plays Princess Fiona, with whom Shrek falls in love.

"We've been in several plays together, but this is the first show where we've been able to play the romantic leads," Reidelberger said. "It's been a blast. Driving to the theater, we run lines back and forth, and driving home, we talk about our characters and give each other advice.

"Just the natural chemistry we have as husband and wife ... We hope that really comes through on stage."

Reidelberger is the musical's lead, but the star of the show may be costume designer Peg Zuger. She had to make about 50 elaborate costumes from scratch and rework more than 100 others.

The most difficult is worn by Jason Johnson, who plays evil Prince Farquad, a dwarf. Johnson performs the whole time on his knees.

"I had to make a costume that was broad enough for him -- he's a big guy -- but proportion everything short enough for the character," said Zuger, 67, of Swansea. "He's less than 4 feet tall on his knees. He dances with my granddaughter (Elyse Gillespie), who is 6, and she's the right size partner for him."

Zuger has been designing and sewing theatrical costumes for more than 50 years. At Looking Glass, she generally can't start production or even shop for supplies until five weeks before opening night when the cast is finalized.

"Shrek" has been a major project for Zuger, but it still can't beat "Beauty and the Beast" in 2005.

"There was a teapot, a feather-duster, a candelabra, a clock," she said. "I had to make people into inanimate objects."

At a glance

What: "Shrek the Musical"

Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3-5; and 2 p.m. Oct. 6

Admission: $10 on Thursdays and Sundays and $12 on Fridays and Saturdays for adults; $9 and $11 for senior citizens 60 and older, students and active military with identification

Reservations: Call 618-537-4962 or visit lookingglassplayhouse.com

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