By Jonathan Williams
Updating the fairy tales of our youth with adult humor and a comically engaging story, 2001’s Shrek spawned an animated film franchise with characters that are familiar to adults and a story that can entertain their children. After debuting on Broadway in 2008, Shrek the Musical took to the road last July, setting out to bring the story of this misunderstood ogre to even broader audiences through song and dance. Having just had its 300th performance, the show makes its way to Atlanta for the first time this week. And helping bring this familiar tale to magical life is the Sugar Plum Fairy, played by Sandra DeNise, who returns to familiar territory herself having gotten her theatre and dance start while growing up in the Atlanta area.
Were you involved with the original Broadway production of Shrek, or is the touring cast entirely different from the original show?
A majority of our cast participated in the Broadway show, but a lot of us are newbies and I’m one of them. I came into the production just for the tour and did rehearsals in New York City with the cast. We opened in July of last year in Chicago and just had our 300th show, so it’s been great.
A lot of your previous roles have been a bit more serious and have been set in more realistic environments. How did preparing for this role compare to preparing for your previous roles?
It’s been a lot of fun because my main role for the fairy tale creatures is the Sugar Plum Fairy. It’s much more of a fantastical world, the swamp in Shrek, than any other show I’ve done before. You have a larger world to create and there are not as many limitations, yet it’s still as real as you can make it because they have to be relatable characters. I’m covered in glitter every night, I have a wig that looks like an ice cream cone with candy all over the place and this fabulous sequined tutu and bodice with crazy-colored tights.
Even the way my character does things on stage, it only grows every single night because you get to do it eight times a week and it continues to evolve, as do the relationships you have onstage.
Is that the same Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker?
Yeah. The fairy tale creatures they’ve chosen to be part of this show are part of some other story, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Pinocchio is a central figure, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. So it’s quite a mixture of what we call freaks. There’s a number in the second act called “Freak Flag” where Pinocchio is pining about the fact that he can’t be a real boy and we help show him that it doesn’t matter if you’re different. It’s feeling loved and that you’re part of something that makes you strong.
Sounds kind of like a Lady Gaga concert.
Oh, yeah. Definitely, the song “Born This Way.” It sounds odd to relate Lady Gaga to Shrek the Musical, but it’s very true. That’s what I try to tell people about this show is it’s not just a stage adaptation of the movie. It’s a little bit deeper than that. Just as much as it’s a love story between Shrek and Princess Fiona, it’s also a story about how to have love for yourself and that you shouldn’t wish to be anything other than who you are. You have to love yourself because our differences are really what make us a stronger community, I think.
The Nutcracker is traditionally performed as a ballet. Being that you have a dance background, do you get to utilize those talents in this show?
Absolutely. My Sugar Plum Fairy routine is growing and I am continuously adding little ballet moves here and there. But I also do other ensemble roles within the show where I get to use my dance training.
Will this be your first Broadway show back in your hometown?
I’ve come through on two of the other tours I’ve done. One was my first big job, which was Rent. I got to do Rent at the Fox in ’99 and that was really exciting because I grew up seeing shows at the Fox and when I was a kid they were going to tear it down, but there was a bunch of promoting and fundraising to save the Fox. The second show I did there was when we actually opened the tour for Parade in 2000, which was extremely emotional for me to do because it’s actually a story written about little Mary Phagan, a girl who was killed and they blamed this one man, Leo Frank. It’s a true story that actually took place near Atlanta, in Marietta, and the opening song for that show is called “The Old Red Hills of Home.” So when we first opened and I was at the Fox singing a song about the old red hills of home, it was a very special experience and I got all mushy onstage.
So it’s been quite a while since you’ve performed at the Fox.
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve played the Fox. I’m so excited to be back, and just excited to be home in general to visit my family.
Shrek the Musical. $30-$67.60. 8 p.m. April 26-30; 2 p.m. April 30; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. May 1. The Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 404-881-2100. www.shrekthemusical.com, www.foxtheatre.org.