After more than two years late, “Shrek the Musical” will finally hit the stage at the Paramount Theater in Rutland this weekend.
The show, a co-production of The Paramount Players and Grace Congregational Church, is a musical adaptation of the popular 2001 animated family comedy about an ogre who falls in love with a princess.
First announced in late 2019, production was delayed due to the pandemic.
Jeff Hull, drama instructor at Otter Valley Union High School, will lead a cast of approximately 40 people ranging in age from 8 to nearly 80.
Hull said the production will feature several great dance routines, including a tap number.
“It’s a very technical show,” he said, adding that it will also feature a large fire-breathing dragon.
Despite the delays, he said the majority of the lead cast remained engaged.
Hull said he came on board a bit later when Eric Mallette, the show’s original director and Hull alumnus, stepped down after being promoted to executive director of The Paramount.
“We’ve been trying to do something together here (at The Paramount) on and off for a few years now. Nothing has ever really expired until this success,” he said.
Mallette, who continued as the show’s producer, said Grace’s collaboration with Paramount represented “the best of Rutland – talent, dedication, volunteerism.”
“The Rutland area is brimming with talent and we are proud to showcase them here on our historic stage,” he said.
Hull said the cast had been rehearsing for six weeks.
“It’s a very committed group of actors,” he said.
But while the cast has been officially rehearsing for so long, some actors, like Matt Riley – who plays the lead role of Shrek – have spent the past two years preparing.
Riley, who has starred in previous Paramount Players productions including 2019’s “Mama Mia,” said he was eager to audition for the role.
“If there’s one role I was born to play, it’s the giant ogre,” he joked.
Riley said he used the production delays to hone his singing skills by taking singing lessons and singing for livestock, including cows.
“They’re not a mainstream audience,” he said. “Very attentive, very little feedback.”
Riley said he was grateful community theater was returning to Rutland, adding that the rehearsals had been a rewarding experience.
“Realizing how important a part of my life this is and how important community theater is, in terms of building community, creating friendships and celebrating the wide range of talents that we have in this city, I wish I just forgot how much rehearsal can be a part of life that is deeply fulfilling and gives you that chance to connect with people in a different way,” a- he declared.
Riley said the music, which is written for the stage, provides more depth to the production than the film’s familiar pop songs.
“I think people are going to be really blown away by the scope and scale of what this local production company, which has had two years off, is capable of,” he said.
Alastair Stout, minister of music at Grace Church, is the musical director of the production.
Stout said he was part of what he dubbed the “Grace Church Music Team,” made up of associate Diane Chartrand and Ben Green, who will lead the 16-piece orchestra.
Stout said a silver lining of the pandemic was that it gave actors time to rehearse.
“They all arrived knowing the music was backwards. So it’s a wonderful thing to immerse ourselves in the finer details, which is rarely the case,” he said.
He said the actors will be accompanied by upbeat and contemporary songs.
“It’s a very colorful musical score – lots of different percussion instruments,” he said.
Particularly colorful is a song featuring Shrek and Princess Fiona, which includes a long flatulent interlude.
“My keyboard has all the sound effects, which is, to be honest with you, one of the reasons I wanted to do this,” he said. “I go from Bach and Mozart and Haydn and all that, and the other extreme is I play fart sounds for Shrek.”
Stout credited Mallette with choosing a show like “Shrek” as the first production coming out of the pandemic.
“It’s a real outing in so many ways – a great family show, lots of fun for the kids,” he said.
Mallette agreed, adding, “The moral rooted in this story is timely: acceptance, family, love — oh, and there’s a dragon.”
The Paramount Players and Grace Congregational Church will perform “Shrek the Musical” at the Paramount Theater on July 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. and July 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost between $15 and $30 per person. Visit paramountvt.org for more information.