Jason Moore, the gay Broadway director of this year’s State Fair musical, promises something for everyone — and he means everyone
STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer
Dallas Summer Musicals, Music Hall at Fair Park
909 First Ave. Shrek the Musical runs Sep. 28 through Oct. 17. Tuesdays–Sundays, 8 p.m., weekend matinees 2 p.m. $25–$133. 214-631-2787.
Flatulence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s just one of the irreverent messages at the center of a musical comedy with a surprising amount of emotional resonance — hidden beneath a grand dose of silliness, of course. Shrek the Musical, about an ogre and a donkey on a quest to save a princess in a land of famous fairy tale characters, began as a beloved children’s book before becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest movie franchises. So bringing it to the Broadway stage — and then on a national tour — meant the stakes were high both with audiences and producers.
“If people love something already, they’re protective of it and they want it to live up to their memory and expectations of what they love about the movie or the book. We deliver what people love, but deliver a bunch of stuff that people have never seen,” says Jason Moore, co-director (with Rob Ashford) of the original Broadway and the national touring productions.
“We don’t think of it as a cartoon. The movie is only 80 minutes long and our show is two hours with an intermission. There are elements directly lifted from the film and then a whole bunch of new stuff, like the score. The movie is not a musical, unlike some of the other adaptations of cartoons that were musicals to begin with. Keeping the familiar look from the movie helps people get used to the fact that they’re hearing music now.”
The sets are colorful and wonderfully elaborate, which isn’t often the case with a touring production.
“The task of making something so it can travel makes you come up with more fun, creative and imaginative ways to solve bigger problems.
That’s why I think tours in some ways tend to be better versions of the shows they reflect, because they’re a little more distilled down to the story,” he says. “Though the tour of Shrek is a huge production, it’s distilled down from Broadway a bit, but still huge. It’s a fairy tale. You need size and scale and fantasy.”
Moore, who also directed the Tony-winning Avenue Q, has a long history directing musicals and comedies. But with Shrek he could quickly be the go-to guy for snarky musicals featuring puppets.
“Ha!” he laughs. “The puppets [in Shrek] couldn’t be more different. There are several puppets in the national tour, but we have this big new beautiful dragon puppet, which is like 24 feet long and magnificent. It flies and there’s a whole new dragon number. Puppets are magical and it’s so great in Shrek because the scale is so huge.”
The fairy-tale world also opens up a lot of new challenges for a director because suddenly, you’re dealing with a menagerie of characters that aren’t human.
“The ogres need to move like ogres, the donkey needs to seem like a donkey. In some ways, everyone is a version of a kind of puppet. They have to manipulate their costumes and their bodies just like a dancer would, like in The Lion King or Little Mermaid. It’s a lot of fun for the actors. To choreograph for a donkey, a dancing egg and a gingerbread man is a challenge, but a rare gift,” he smiles.
Perhaps even more rare is a musical number involving the delicate subject of, well, breaking wind.
“I like to think that we are the first and maybe last. It is a song about farting, but it’s based on an old theater convention: Anything you can do, I can do better. The song at its essence is really about two characters who are falling in love with each other. A lot of times when people fall in love, it’s not based in language. It’s based in kind of awkward physicality. Farting and burping is just our version of it because we’re dealing with ogres. It’s indigenous to their behavior.”
The deeper message at the center of Shrek is something he hopes resonates with anyone who, like the big green ogre, has ever been an outcast.
“It’s definitely a fairy tale world that runs by different rules. There’s a song in Act 2 called Freak Flag, which basically is the message of the show. Love who you are and others will love you,” he says. “As a gay man myself, I think that can be said of any human, but particularly true of gay humans. Shrek is essentially an outcast and we were often mindful of people who would be considered outcasts, from redheads to gays to other minorities to people who had awkward teeth. Certainly I’d like to think there is something special in it for gay people.”
But ultimately, it’s about bringing something to the stage for people of all ages and all backgrounds. Shrek, he says, is about exploring universal truths — with a lot of laughs along the way. And most of all, it’s about bringing to the stage something you can’t experience anywhere else.
“You have to ask, what can you do in the theater that you can’t do in the movies? That’s what we deliver. On the road, in any theater, audiences are seeing a show for the first time and we always want to give them as much magic as we can.”
Cue the singing mice and flying dragons.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010.