“Shrek the Musical” Adds Depth to Beloved Characters

So you’re writing a musical, based on another source — a play, a novel or a movie, and you must find the moment in the original where a song would naturally occur.

“You try to crack the material open and find the treasure,” said Jeanine Tesori, composer for the Broadway musical “Shrek the Musical,” which opens at the Cadillac Palace Theatre July 13.

Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote the book and lyrics for the family musical now running on Broadway through Jan. 3, had come to the theater in the fall to meet the press and talk about the national road tour, which will run all summer and conclude Sept. 5, 2010.

The two are a laurel-laden musical theater pair. Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori received two Tony nominations for their work on the musical. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007 for his play “Rabbit Hole,” and she has received three more Tony nominations for her scores for “Twelfth Night,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Caroline, or Change,” which, when staged in Chicago, won a 2009 Joseph Jefferson Award as Best Musical.

The two knew just what they wanted to do when they accepted the challenge to turn William Steig’s book “Shrek” and the DreamWorks Animation film “Shrek” into a big-time musical.

The story had all the necessary narrative elements, they explained, from which to create a quest song, a buddy song and a love song. And there’s one number in which Shrek and Fiona, a very unlikely princess, engage in a competition. “We wrote a song like ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ from ‘Annie Get Your Gun,'” Tesori said. “And during that song Shrek and Fiona fall in love.

“At that point the audience knows more than the characters about what is happening to them,” she added, smiling.

Fans of the book and the movie will find the musical has been enriched considerably. “In the film, Shrek is sitting in the swamp and he’s angry,” said Lindsay-Abire. “We wondered how he got there and why was he so mad at the world?”

So the pair gave the ogre a back story. “His parents kicked him out and gave him his negative view of the world,” the lyricist continued, “so he had to unlearn a lot as he goes on his journey.”

In fact, the pair admitted, every character has a back story and has a lot to learn about the world in this show. However, there is a happy ending, along with the positive lesson of self-acceptance, which was the take-away from the first film.

“There’s very little out there that the whole family can go to,” Tesori agreed. “And it has been very satisfying to see whole families sitting together, laughing.”

The humor, they explained, is like the movie. “There are jokes the parents will get that will go right over the kids’ heads,” the lyricist declared, “and the children will laugh at the farts.”

Both members of the team have children. Lindsay-Abaire is the father of an 8-year-old and a 16-month-old, while Tesori has a 12-year-old daughter.

“Our aim was to create a show that children, parents and grandparents could enjoy together,” said Lindsay-Abair, with a big smile, “and we did.”

Tickets are avaiable for subscribers through www.BroadwayInChicago.com or by calling the season Ticket Hotline at (312) 977-1717. Individual tickets will go on sale to the public early next year.