Shrek the Musical at the Coterie Theatre

shrekMore than 10 years ago, a grumpy and downright ornery ogre named Shrek wormed his way into the collective hearts of moviegoers. He proved that heroes can be the most unlikely characters while exposing a new generation to fairy tales. OK, they were a little fractured, but still young kids found themselves heading to the school library for the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Fast forward almost a dozen years and get ready to experience Shrek from the creative minds at the Coterie Theatre. The musical runs Oct. 30 to Dec. 30.

Originally part of the Coterie’s Lab for New Family Musicals, the Broadway authors and composers Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire have worked with Artistic Director Jeff Church to craft a world premiere for young families. Two of the three lead characters, Fiona and Shrek, are being played by first-time Coterie actors. Lauren Braton is taking on the role of Fiona and Dana Nicholson is Shrek. “I have a great appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes and the drafts for the musical,” Braton says. “The Broadway show was successful when it hit the stage in 2008 and it has a couple national tours.”

Braton says she has the Broadway recording and listens often. “I love Fiona and the fact she really tries to be what every fairy tale princess should be … meet the prince, fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s not that way. She is sassy, strong and goofy. I identify with her. I have that goofy side. I try to be elegant, but I am a tomboy. Essentially that is Fiona. It can be hard to identify with the Barbie doll princesses when you are dealing with a curse. Truly I am excited to play her.”

The Coterie Theatre staff strives to present plays and musicals that are not only entertaining, but educational. For Shrek the Musical, teachers will be able to share lessons on myths, folk and fairy tales and other literary devices that are part of communication arts and reading curricula. However, the social studies and more specifically the sociology portion of individual development, self-knowledge and self-acceptance and identity may resonate even more.

Nicholson describes Shrek as an ogre torn between being lonely, but also happy. “There is a fine line. He is anti-social, but he has fun within that. Conversely I am that positive person. It is fun to find the similarities in the sarcasm. I can be a sarcastic person, but I am not often lonely. I will have to hone in on that. Shrek is so loved and I want to keep hold of many of those things that make Shrek Shrek. An audience wants to connect and be entertained. The familiarity of this story will hold fast.”

Tosin Morohunfola, who plays Donkey, is the opposite of Braton and Nicholson. He spent the bulk of last year with the Coterie and ended up with the title of resident artist. He acted in The Wiz, The Outsiders, The Wrestling Season, Seussical the Musical and he was part of the cast of Lucky Duck that went to New York. He even just finished directing the touring show The Presidents. “It’s great that I found favor at the Coterie. It’s a lot to do with timing and some talent.”

Like Nicholson, Morohunfola sees Donkey as an iconic role too, especially for this generation’s youth. “He’s half of a classic buddy relationship. It’s fun to see the quest and the goal, even if the two seem unlikely. Of course, I am excited to make Donkey my own. So many think of Eddie Murphy, but I am going to have some fun.”

Nicholson says he is excited to be part of the Coterie’s positive environment and that license to be creative. He is also thrilled to be working with Morohunfola. “We are friends while Donkey and Shrek have an uneasy friendship. The trick for us will be to find the nuances of their friendship.”

Morohunfola wants everyone to come see the musical. “While it may be billed to children and tweens, the themes are so universal for any age,” he says. There is even a song titled Let Your Freak Flag Fly. Braton appreciates the anthem. “Kids will get it. Be you and you are great just as you are,” she says. “I am so excited to perform for young people. I have a teaching certificate along with my music degrees. I have voice studios at Ibsen and Kansas City Young Audiences. There’s nothing more rewarding than to perform for children and teens. I can’t wait to see their reactions and talk to them after the shows. The Coterie is known for teaching values and lessons; I anticipate a successful run for the Coterie.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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