While Palos Verdes High School shows are always great fun, the cast and crew have outdone themselves with their ebullient production of “Shrek,” which continues this weekend.
The students’ energy bursts like gas bubbles out of swamp water, and it’s clear everyone — from the student orchestra led by student conductor Zack DiLello to the freak-filled ensemble — is having the kind of fun found only in fairy tales. Backstage, a capable crew handles multiple sound cues and lightning-quick changes in scenes, costumes and makeup to bring the otherworldly kingdom of Duloc to life.
“It was the biggest production I’ve ever been part of,” PVHS Drama Director Nicole Thompson said. “This was the biggest crew we’ve ever had, because of the amount of hair and makeup and costumes, but it came together.”
The story is the well-known tale of unsuitable boy meets unattainable girl. But what a boy, and what a girl!
Max Havas bursts into the title role with a voice as forceful as his character, who’s unhappy to find his isolated swamp has been overrun with fairy-tale “freaks” evicted from Duloc.
Havas, a junior who recently won second place in the National American Teachers for Singing competition, spends nearly two hours before each show putting on the prosthetics and makeup needed to play the tough ogre with the tender heart.
“This performance took a lot of work, because it’s such a huge show, and also the physical element of having the prosthetics on and being able to sing and act,” Havas said. “But it’s really a rewarding experience. It definitely adds a whole new level to the character, and I’m so happy I get to do it.”
Shrek picks up a new friend in Donkey (played by Grant Unno) on his way to Duloc, where he meets its ruler, Farquaad, played by an expressive Terran Mueller, who walks, prances and dances on his knees.
“I saw the show on Broadway, and I always wanted to be Lord Farquaad,” the sophomore said. “I auditioned with my knee pads, and when I got the part, I went in day one with my knee pads on. … It has really been a challenge, but as an actor I love facing new challenges, and this is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played.”
Mueller, who has performed professionally, uses his excellent timing and improv skills to play off the audience’s reactions to the self-delusional ham who is Farquaad.
Shrek agrees to fetch the diminutive ruler a princess to marry in exchange for the deed to the swamp. The princess in question lives in a high tower surrounded by hot lava guarded by an angry dragon powerfully voiced by Arianna Amberg. Young Fiona, played by Gracey Thomas (who shares the role with Ashley Reynolds), along with teen Fiona Noelle Gordillo and adult Fiona Kyra Belle Johnson, count the days until their Prince Charming arrives, singing a lovely trio, “I Know It’s Today.”
Those familiar with Johnson’s voice will hear her before they see her. As always, the talented singer/dancer/actress delights the audience and, in the character of Fiona, proves herself a formidable match for a fed-up Shrek.
“‘Shrek’ and ‘Legally Blonde’ are the two most fun musicals I’ve ever done,” Johnson, a junior, said. “Fiona is so quirky, she lets loose but then also she’s that commanding [presence], and her transitions are so funny. It’s just so much fun to play her and bring elements of my own personality into it, and then just laughing about it.”
The energy of the ensemble cast is unstoppable as they fill the roles of freaks, guards, knights and Duloc dancers.
“They all found their distinct personality in each one of their characters, which made it super fun,” Thompson said. “Because they were having so much fun on stage, it was so much fun to direct.”
Shrek triumphantly hands Fiona over at the gates of Duloc, but his heart is breaking as he discovers he loves a woman he can never have. Fortunately, Donkey is close by to prove his friendship by encouraging Shrek to drop his defenses. Everyone else, though, needs to come to terms with who they really are.
“You have to remember that Shrek, as much as he tries to put up this front and build a wall, as he says in one of the songs, really does just want to be loved just like any other living thing,” Havas said. “And he finds that in Fiona, which is really nice. It’s a great message to send to everyone watching the show.”
The Palos Verdes High School Drama Department’s production of “Shrek The Musical” continues April 17, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m. and April 19 at 2 p.m. in the Multi-Purpose Room at Palos Verdes High School, 600 Cloyden Road in Palos Verdes Estates. Following each matinee performance, audience members are invited to meet the cast in the theater courtyard. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $12 for students and $20 for premium tickets, which include a light snack and beverage. Tickets can be purchased at www.pvhsdrama.com or at the door if seats are still available. For further information, visit the website or call (310) 378-8471, ext. 237.