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NCT’s ‘Shrek’ wows on Needham stage

By Lauren Schiavone
Hometown Weekly Staff

Directed and choreographed by Marianne Lonati with musical direction from Alan Rodi, Needham Community Theatre’s “Shrek the Musical” gifted audiences a professional-quality production that was enjoyed by all.

The story, based on the Dreamworks film, centers around Shrek, a lonely ogre who has lived a life of seclusion due to his being an outcast. Once the unconventionally evil Lord Farquaad banishes all fairytale characters from their kingdom in Duloc, they seek shelter in Shrek’s swamp. Shrek, initially fighting to keep his swamp peaceful and isolated, embarks on an adventure and finds a fairytale himself.

This NCT show offered accessible and extraordinary theatre. Building the Shrek universe utilized each cast and crew member’s skillset to create an entire “Big, Bright, Beautiful, World”, as the opening number suggested — and in a true community effort, the actors, musicians, costumes, makeup, set, lighting, and sound design all served the story beautifully. 

The detail in set design alone was transformative. The big red storybook at center stage at the top of the show presented an invitation for all ages to drop in and enjoy, and the story’s simple message of love and acceptance resonated with everyone in the audience. Highlighted throughout the production, but especially in the show-stopping ensemble number, “Freak Flag”, the amount of talent and work in every aspect of the production was astronomical.

Responsible for makeup design, Gianna Romanelli faced a few challenges — in particular, working with special effects makeup for Shrek. “The most complicated thing was ‘how do we make Shrek look like Shrek?’” Romanelli recalled. “It took maybe four or five reconfigurations.” Eventually, Romanelli was able to fit a piece, made from masking latex, to actor Mike Buck’s head. “We used modeling clay with latex for the ears and adjust and then painted it.”

Some phenomenal technical aspects turned to fairytale magic onstage. For example, Pinocchio’s nose grew in real-time, a massive dragon with glowing eyes roamed the kingdom, and an impressive set piece served as a bridge and swamp moat. 

Exemplifying the all-hands-on-deck ethos of a community theater production, Dan Henderson played the role of King Harold, Knight, and Guard in his first musical since high school — and was also involved in behind-the-scenes work. Helping in the scene shop, he assisted with the construction of two ramps that were the main levels of functional scenery. “It’s three-dimensional geometry,” Henderson commented. “Those two ramps that were configured are engineering marvels. It got reconfigured a few times, but it totally worked — not only aesthetically, but also functionally.” 

Costumes were also all made from scratch — and with over fifty performers, it was no simple feat.

The role of Fiona was played by four actors: Maeve McCluskey as Ogress Fiona, Aiden O’Neal as Princess Fiona, Ruby Bearak as Young Fiona, and Hannah Novack as Teen Fiona. Foregoing the Broadway quick-changes, the opportunity to have multiple actors play the role of Fiona was a testament to each individual’s ability. Makeup artist Diane Rothhauser was astounded by the similarities in character and vocal tone that all four actors shared. In “I Know It’s Today”, for example, Fiona waits for her prince for an extended amount of time and wishes for things to change — and the three Fionas sing a hopeful song with flawless belting and humor. “Their voices all merged together,” she commented. “Their voices are so similar. The harmonies in this show are unbelievable.” 

Everyone at NCT is extremely proud of the work that went into the production. Romanelli, Rothhauser, and Henderson all serve on the board of directors, and hoped that audiences found joy in the professional quality shows. 

“It’s especially fun to not only have kids in the show, but [to have] kids see the show. They love to see the princesses and Shrek and take pictures. I always hope they become interested, too,” Henderson said. Recognizing the amount of labor that goes into a full production as well, he continued: “I hope people come to NCT and volunteer and say ‘hey, I can build something or sew a costume.’ We’re always looking for more help. There’s a great balance for acting, too. People come with little or no experience and get their foot in the door.”

Welcoming to all, Needham Community Theatre will soon hold auditions for their 2023 spring play, “Ramona Quimby”, and their 2023 fall musical, “Fiddler on the Roof”. For more information, visit www.needhamtheatre.org.

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