Q&A with "Shrek" director Keith Kessler

Q: What is your performance background and how did you get involved with Cottage Theatre?

A: Director Keith Kessler: I have been involved with Cottage Theatre since 1991. I have acted, directed and written for the stage at Cottage Theatre and I have been on several committees and the board. I was involved when Cottage Theatre began their summer kids’ programs and have the playwright for the summer melodramas. Prior to working with Cottage Theatre, I had the opportunity to work as a props master and assistant director/stage manager with Ed Ragozzino for the Eugene Festival of Musical Theatre at the Hult Center.

Q: What are the challenges to staging a show that, essentially, the audience knows only as an ani-mated story?

A: When people know the show, it is a two-sided coin.  Immediately you have audience recognition and the desire for people to come and see it on stage. We are now in a time where a number of stage shows have come from movies or animation that I believe most people are fascinated to see how the “next’ show for them will be accomplished.

The other side is that you hope that you don’t disappoint the audience who have loved the animated movie: in this case “Shrek the Musical” has had such a successful track record that as a director you know that it is a wonderful script and my job is to help it come life on Cottage Theatre’s stage.

Q: "Shrek" has obviously been on larger stages when it transformed into a musical. Did you take any inspiration from prior stages of the show and is there anything particularly different or unique about your telling of it?

A: I have watched the Netflix version of the Broadway show and that has obviously influence my choices. There are some differences from the Broadway version and what is given to us form MTI to produce after Broadway.  Knowing that I work hard at having a collaborative relationship with my actors and creative team and I want them to bring their ideas and interpretations to the stage. I believe we are better together than we are alone.

I also am always looking for places that I can bring my own personal touch to each production. Shows like “Shrek” have great stories and pow-erful life lessons so I am on the hunt for ways that I can emphasize those ideas and themes.  

Q: The dragon. Does it make it into the show and if it does, how?

A: Yes, the Dragon appears and is brought to life through Tony Rust’s Dragon’s design, Sophie Blades and Stefhani Anderson’s decorating, the Dragon being voiced by Angela Pearson and seven Dragonette puppeteers. It is even more wonderful than I ever thought possible and people over the first weekend are really responding to it as a character.

Q: What should audiences be on the lookout for during the show? Any hidden gems or a particular-ly stand out performance?

A: Our three main leads, Shrek Mark — VanBeever, Fiona — Melissa Miller and Donkey — Matt Arscott are marvelous. 

Josh Sayre playing Lord Farquaad surprises everyone on his first entrance. Our three Fiona’s blend so well on their song together. There are many songs in the show that are the kind of songs that make you happy that you are involved in musical theatre.

And finally, we have tap dancing rats and a singing bird that will surprise everyone.

Q: Why should people come to see “Shrek?”

A: It is a show that has more laughs than anyone can imagine. The music is memorable and toe tapping along with great ballads. It is a night of enjoyable entertainment at the theatre and the story is one that resonates and touches people at a heart level.

People leave smiling and uplifted and if you come stay all the way through the song “I’m a Believer.”

Shrek is playing at Cottage Theatre through Oct. 28. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit cottagetheatre.org.



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