Allentown ‘swamp’ prepares to welcome ‘Shrek’

 Cast members Michael Masse (Lord Farquaad), Jason Diaz (Shrek), Matthew Jones (Donkey) and Hannah Shaffer (Fiona) are preparing for this week’s presentation of “Shrek: The Musical” at Allentown High School. Cast members Michael Masse (Lord Farquaad), Jason Diaz (Shrek), Matthew Jones (Donkey) and Hannah Shaffer (Fiona) are preparing for this week’s presentation of “Shrek: The Musical” at Allentown High School. He’s big, green, loud and proud, with a penchant for flatulence. Despite these unseemly characteristics — or perhaps due to them — children and adults everywhere adore him. Shrek, the lovable ogre, is coming to Allentown, appearing in the Allentown High School swamp (auditorium) in “Shrek: The Musical.”

Performances are scheduled for Feb. 27- 28 and March 1 at the high school, High Street. Curtain time each evening is 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door.

Director/teacher Nicole Machin is in her 10th year of theater at AHS and continues the school’s tradition of never repeating a show.

“Wonderful new releases are always coming out. ‘Shrek’ is an insanely complicated show, and not many high schools have done it yet,” she said. “We are brave and determined to try new things, and our students always rise to the occasion with their talent and work ethic.”

The play tells the tale of the unlikely hero Shrek and his street-talking companion Donkey. They undertake rescuing the beautiful and slightly high-strung Princess Fiona from her tower prison, eluding a lovesick dragon in the process. Along the way they find that beauty is not always found on the outside. Completing the show are the diminutive Lord Farquaad and a forest full of fairytale misfits.

A cast of 35 includes three pupils from the Newell Elementary School who join the high school actors. Twenty more students handle crew duties, with another 15 working on art and makeup.

Seniors Jason Diaz and Hannah Shaffer play the roles of Shrek and Fiona. Sophomore Matthew Jones is the wisecracking Donkey, while senior Michael Masse is Lord Farquaad. Junior Allyson Umoru supplies the voice of the Dragon.

“The challenging part about Shrek is taking a gross, disgusting character and making him connect with the audience,” Diaz said. “Then there is working with a second set of skin on your face and a covering over your ears that affects your ability to hear. But Shrek is still a lot of fun because he’s a big, brash character with a really cool accent.”

As Fiona, Shaffer will be playing her third lead in an Allentown musical.

“What has been great is that the characters I have played have been unique,” Shaffer said. “Fiona is a rather unorthodox princess who wants to hide her inner ogre. Bringing an animated character to life on stage can be silly, but it is more challenging than I expected.”

Machin appreciates the experience of this year’s cast, particularly among the leads, noting that four seniors plan to pursue theater, dance or vocal performance in college.

“We have challenged them to not just recreate what they have seen in the (“Shrek”) movie, but to put much of their personality into their character,” Machin said. “This group is very close to each other and will do anything to help make the show better.”

According to a press release, the show’s complexity and spectacle required some outside assistance. Rittzy Productions is preparing the costumes, with many — such as Fiona’s dress — being designed and made from scratch for the specific actors. Koren Zander from EnKore Makeup is a seasoned theater veteran from Broadway and has created some amazing makeup effects, including the intricate Shrek mask and cowl.

The Dragon is sure to be a hit, with a 6-foot-long head, and a total body length of 24 feet.

“She is a beautiful monster, not cartoonish at all,” Machin said. “Controlling the actions requires six students. We are using dancers to make sure the choreography is smooth and authentic.”

Maintaining the pulse of the orchestra and vocal performances is Megan Wolff, AHS choir director and teacher.