“Shrek” actor brings audience to their feet
by Alison Woo
In anticipation of “Shrek” – the much beloved Hollywood movie turned Broadway musical – coming to the Queen City next week, I’ve been watching the whole series of movies. None was as sweet as the first one that introduced us to Shrek himself, Donkey, Princess Fiona and of course the dastardly yet lovable Lord Farquaad.
Bringing the movie to life and to the stage takes extraordinary imagination and the creative abilities of a Tony-award winning team and actors who go the extra mile. None take that challenge as seriously as actor David Vaughn. To bring Lord Farquaad to life means the 6-foot-1 actor has to walk, sing and dance on his knees for the entire performance.
South Charlotte Weekly had the chance to talk with Vaughn during scheduled performances about the challenges and brilliance of bringing the audience of young and old to their feet eight times a week.
How did you get your start in acting?
“I did a lot of little classes here and there but it wasn’t until high school, when my friends were in the tech side, when I joined with them and fell in love with it then. When I turned 15, my parents took me to see ‘The Who’s Tommy.’ It was the first theater show where there wasn’t classical Broadway music. It was a rock ballad. So for the first time I got really excited and it was so cool.”
What was your first experience with the “Shrek” movies?
“I had seen the movie but didn’t really remember much of it, but when I got the job I watched it again. During the Broadway run, one of our understudies left but I had a chance to go on so I ended up getting the role full time.”
What’s been the process of bringing the movie to life on the stage?
“I think it’s the perfect show. It’s bright and colorful. Much like the movie, there are so many jokes that are for the adults and are firmly tongue-in-cheek, which of course is why the movie is so popular. This is a great show because many of these kids who come to see the show are going to not see a cheesy kids’ show but one that has a score created by people who are Tony and Pulitzer award nominees. Their first foray in theater is from higher caliber theater, not just a movie on stage.
“The reason why movie musicals are so popular right now is because producers are losing the Broadway audiences. They needed to get people in who wouldn’t see a show. So to have a musical set to the music of Abba or the 80s is an easier pitch than a show such as ‘Avenue Q,’ which no one has seen before.”
How does your take on Lord Farquaad differ from John Lithgow’s movie version?
“The movie plays him very dark, very story book evil. We take a more bratty interpretation and project a child-like nastier version. I like to say he’s a little less naturally evil and more bratty and spoiled. How often does an actor get to play the villain that also plays the comic relief? It’s very rare.”
The physical demands of playing this role literally on your knees seem unbearable. How do you do it?
“It’s obviously very difficult and I got to see Christopher Sieber, who originated the role on Broadway do it when I was his understudy. From him I learned how to do it healthily. I also get physical therapy twice a week.
“Throughout the show, I’m rigged with series of kneepads so that when I do a dance break with the cast, I’m really doing the same choreography. It took me four weeks in rehearsal to get through the pain and hard stuff but now it’s totally second nature.”
What’s been the most surprising part of doing the national tour?
“I think the response we get the most is ‘I did not want to see this show because I thought it would be just the movie on stage. But we had one of the greatest times ever.’ The show is so much more. It is true to the original book and you meet Shrek and Fiona when they were 7.
“From the stage, the energy of the audiences enjoying this show is amazing. There are mature couples and teenagers and kids and everyone is laughing at different things. The truth is that we have some of the best writers and composers and it’s a Broadway musical. Everyone will have a blast.”
“Shrek – The Musical” will be at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center from June 14 to 19. Tickets and more information are available at www.blumenthalarts.org.