‘Shrek’ treks to ‘Burgh singing new tunes

By Larissa Gula

Alan Mingo Jr. spends several hours a day surrounded by ogres, a lord and a princess… “Shrek The Musical”

Tuesday – Sunday

Directed by Jason Moore

Benedum Center


412-456-6666 or pgharts.org

Alan Mingo Jr. spends several hours a day surrounded by ogres, a lord and a princess.

The actor plays Donkey in the upcoming show “Shrek the Musical.” And from the beginning of the role, that meant wearing hooves on his hands.

“From the first rehearsal they had me in hooves on my hands,” Mingo said.. “It changed things. I’m used to having use of my hands. Here in rehearsal they had me wearing these hooves. The actual costume is beautiful and comfortable, but having the hands covered was a struggle. But by now it’s natural, which is weird to say.”

Donkey accompanies Shrek, the now-famous ogre, as he attempts to rescue a princess from a tower in hopes of reclaiming his swampy home.

“Shrek The Musical,” currently touring after its Broadway run, reenacts the first movie in the “Shrek” series, though there are new plot twists and more original music added. Just like in the movie, there are moments for children mixed in with adult humor for older crowds.

The show’s creators, David Lindsay-Abaire for book and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori for music, expanded on the Duloc welcoming song and kept “I’m a Believer” at the end, but the rest of the score is original.

But one of the biggest challenges that actors like Mingo face is adapting a well-known movie character for the stage in a way that does justice to the original — without copying it.

The solution for Mingo is to be true to the character. He doesn’t try to impersonate Eddie Murphy, the voice of Donkey in the movie, but instead he “does what the character itself would do.”

“It’s not vastly different,” Mingo said. “You recognize the donkey when you see and hear him. But because the musical takes place through the first movie and we have other situations that didn’t happen in the movie, once the audience recognizes him they go along with the ride with me. The whole objective was you can’t go wrong if you stay true to the Donkey’s situation.”

Mingo’s no stranger to Broadway shows based on movies. He has acted in “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid,” but Donkey brought in a new experience for him because of the costume’s “practicality.”

“The costume pretty much looks like a donkey,” Mingo said. “I look like I’m in a suit giving the shape of a donkey. It’s like looking at a donkey staying on his hind legs.”

The Donkey costume is especially comfortable. There is fishnet underneath that allows for ventilation, making the costume more practical than costumes used in other shows.

Other costumes in the show aren’t necessarily as easy to wear as Donkey’s — the Shrek costume takes quite a bit of work. Jorie Mars Malan, the make-up assistant, specializes in the prosthetics that are part of the Shrek character make-up.

“Most shows only have one or two [make-up artists], and most shows only require hair and the actors do their own make-up,” Malan said. “This is just intense and they can’t do it on their own every day.”

The make-up for the Shrek costume alone takes 90 minutes to put together, Malan said. It includes a bald cap with a face opening, a latex foam piece that covers the actor’s head and includes ears, and three silicone pieces for his face that leave only his eyes and mouth exposed.

“Most of what goes on his face is glue. Then I paint everything to blend the pieces. It’s amazing because those pieces once on look very seamless. I feel like I’m talking to a cartoon character,” Malan said.

Malan is responsible for making the rest of the cast look cartoon-like as well.

Sean McKnight has a different job. He might play any male role on a given night. He works on the show as a swing, learning all of the male roles so he can “swing” into any part when necessary. He’s also a dance captain responsible for knowing and teaching choreography for the show.

“Shrek’s costume and make-up is genius. If you saw him up close you would think he’s an ogre,” McKnight said, recalling a time he sent a photo to a friend who didn’t recognize the person underneath the make-up.

But well-constructed costumes don’t mean the actors won’t have trouble with them.

“I have never been in a show with costumes this gigantic,” McKnight said. “‘Shrek’ backstage is a show in and of itself. The traffic backstage is massive. As a cast member, learning what I have to do on stage is one part of my job, and learning what to do backstage is another part and just as important. Backstage is so organized and timed to the last second.

The cast takes an hour to actually tests how long it takes to move on and off stage in each new theater to ensure nothing goes wrong on opening night.  Once that’s in order, they can perform for audiences. And McKnight, like Mingo, stresses one point — “Shrek” isn’t just for kids.

“It’s impossible to leave the show unhappy. It’s full of energy,” he said.