CHARLES TOWN – If you’ve never been to a production at the Old Opera House, now is the time. This year’s Christmas production, “Shrek: The Musical,” has the area buzzing with positive energy.
I talked with three Charles Town residents there with their families for the production’s opening weekend who are recommending others get their ticket to the remaining performances of “Shrek,” which runs this weekend and next at the historic George Street theater.
“I thought it was fantastic,” said Heather Mae Wilson. “The best (production) I’ve seen there and had I not known, I would never have thought it was community theater. I would have thought it was a professional troupe.”
Said Jennifer George: “In a word – fabulous. The scale and sheer magnitude of the production is simply amazing.”
“A great Christmas production,” reports Aracelli Day. “It was great for the kids and the whole family.”
And just because the story contains a princess and fairy tale creatures, don’t presume only children or families with little ones will enjoy “Shrek.”
Explains Day: “Just like so many movies today, as a nod to adults they’ve put in a little bit of that adult humor you know parents and grandparents are going to get.”
Wilson, Day and George all cite individual performers as stand out.
George remembered enjoying Shawn Nakia in the OOH’s “My Fair Lady” and said he’s a perfect Lord Farrquad. “I can’t even tell you how funny he was,” she said. “He was hilarious. My husband is a hard one to crack and (Nakia) had him laughing through the whole thing. He did an excellent job.”
With his one-liners and animated persona, Donkey as portrayed by Andrew McClain boosts the comedic factor of the show.
“He’s a wonderful singer first of all,” Day said. “He takes what Eddie Murphy did in the movie and elevated it. He really performed the heck out of the character.”
Karilee Grossnickle, who portrays Princess Fiona, is somewhat new to the OOH. Known more for her work in the Hagerstown, Md., area, she played as one of Elle Wood’s sorority sisters in the production of “Legally Blonde” at the OOH.
Said Wilson: “I thought Karilee’s Fiona was perfect … so full of energy and life.”
Ed Conn as Shrek also showed the audience that ogres have feelings, too.
“It brought me to tears several times, good tears,” George said. “When Ed was singing ‘Build Me a Wall’ and he had real tears running down his face, you can’t help but cry.”
Day also was impressed. “Ed Conn has been on the stage at the Old Opera House for so many years in supporting roles. This is his first lead and he totally owns the role,” she said. “He does a fantastic job.”
The production’s bevy of fairy tale characters – Pinocchio, the Ugly Duckling, Fairy Godmother, Peter Pan, Gingy the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs and many more – also add a lot of zest to the proceedings.
Talented performers bringing the fairy tale land to life include Alan Harner, Andy Kennedy, Gabrielle Tokach, Katie Kennedy, Amanda Willis, Sarah Celec, Jenna Kennedy, Donnie Cruse, Keith Shifflett, Eli Viands, Holly Legg, Megan West, August Burzio, Sydney Clark, Keely Clocker, Kyle Perkins, Kevin Tester, Charlie Perkins, Karen Paone, Ryan Perry, Rene Farabaugh, Bruce Olson, Meaghan Barry, Glenn Frail, Michael George, James Wright and Christine Brewer.
“There are some different things going on and more of a back story (than the movie version),” Day said. “I think it makes it more fun.”
The OOH production also benefits from the small army of people working behind the scenes. Steven Brewer, the OOH managing and artistic director, directed the production but notes that others also deserve much of the credit for its success.
For “Shrek,” he points to the work of musical director Alison Shafer and choreographer Ashley Snow.
Also deserving praise: Karen Martin (the show’s producer) Beth Brackett (stage manager), Martha Louden (set designer), Kara Younce (assistant stage manager), Michael Stiles (lighting) and Rebecca Tomlin (hair designer).
Sue Brownsmith’s costume crew included Melanie Brownsmith, Jennifer George, Rachel Marciani, Karen Martin and Doreen Wootton.
Students from Shepherd University’s departments of contemporary art and theatre brought to life the musical’s dragon and others involved in the behind-the-scenes work of “Shrek: the Musical” include Rico Massimino, Zach Little, Kara Younce, Emily Kaiser, Joey LoCascio, Anna Perkins, Sarah Ring, Craig Sours, Ashely Tester, Walter Tomlin, Travis Fouche and Christina Smith.
Among those responsible for building and painting the scenic backgrounds for the production: Vince Farabaugh, Kristi Giest, Katie Kennedy, Joey LoCascio, Tatiana Evanisko-Long, Amy Tatina, Emily Kennedy, Jenna Kennedy, Kenny Louden, Tom Ballard, Joey LoCascio, Will Heyser, John-Michael Rolnick, Craig Sours, Bill Spach and Scott Tatina.
Theater fan George describes “Shrek” as “probably the best thing I’ve ever seen the Old Opera House do.” Her advice to others? “Anyone who hasn’t bought tickets yet should, because they’re going to go fast.”