A reclusive ogre, an energetic donkey, a sassy cookie and an insanely short-tempered (emphasis on the short) wannabe king are hitting the Walnut Street Theatre’s stage this season —- and those are just a few of the colorful characters included in this new wildly entertaining production. The Walnut’s latest show, “Shrek the Musical,” based on the book by William Steig and the Oscar-winning 2001 movie, opened this week, and already the wacky fairytale-styled story has had audiences tapping their feet and singing along. Nichalas L. Parker, who plays the grumpy green ogre himself is actually quite familiar with the show, having played the role of Donkey in a different production, but now Parker is excited to take on the challenge of Shrek and to showcase just how deep this hilarious plot can actually be. Parker sat down with Metro to chat about his role, the show and how overall it’s best never to judge a book by its cover.
‘Shrek the Musical’ is on stage now at the Walnut Street Theatre
How did you get involved with “Shrek the Musical?”
This is actually the second time I’ve done “Shrek the Musical,” I played the role of Donkey before years ago in a much smaller production. It’s just a really fun show and ever since then I have always wanted to test myself with other roles in “Shrek.” When I was finishing up my role as Donkey, I was also finishing up my apprenticeship with the Walnut as an acting apprentice, and I’ve been working ever since then on the main stage with them. They approached me about a year and a half ago and said they would love to have me play Shrek, and now here we are.
What do you like specifically like about the role of Shrek?
It’s a challenge for me, and very rarely do I get to have a challenge in a role. I’m used to playing the Donkey character —- the guy who’s always making someone laugh or who is high energy and all over the place. So it’s a change to finally have a role where I have to settle down and focus and be able to connect a little deeper with the character and with the actors on stage. It’s really nice to break into that side of my training that I rarely ever get to do.
How do you become the character of Shrek?
Make-up itself takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how specific we are and how much time we have. But altogether to get ready it takes about 30 minutes. It’s not a very complicated costume, I guess the worst part about it is the towel that I wear around my neck and throat — that can be a bit restricting. But other than that the costume is very comfortable and very easy to maneuver in.
For fans of the movie, is this a similar story or is it a fresh new take?
It’s definitely a fresh new take on the beloved story. If you remember, the original story had a lot of puns when it came to fairytale creatures and nursery rhymes, and I think the musical definitely expands on that and has a lot more fun with it. Not to give away too much, but there are a lot of things in the movie that had to be theatricalized and they actually do it in this production, and it’s done really well. So I think that if you love the movie, you’ll definitely love the musical.
How would you describe the music in the show?
It’s pretty upbeat — it has a ballad here or there but altogether I think people will be tapping their feet and definitely going home singing a couple of new songs. There are a lot of songs that they’ll hear for the first time, and I promise you they won’t forget them.
Is there any particular song or scene that you’re the most excited to perform, or that you have the most fun doing?
There is, there’s a scene that involves a lot of farting on stage that I do with Fiona — it’s very fun. I love a good fart joke, so when you pack a whole bunch of them in one song, I’m a happy guy.
Overall, what do you hope audiences take away from the show?
I think the main thing they’ll take away is to not judge a book by its cover and that not everyone is what they seem. It’s not traditional for a black man to play Shrek, so it’s stuff along those lines that will make people see that the story is more than what people would expect, especially with the characters and the cast. This is just a really great show and the actors are amazing, we truly get to do some incredible things. I think people will be talking about this production for a while.
“Shrek the Musical” is on stage now at the Walnut Street Theatre (825 Walnut St.) until Jan. 5. For more information, go to walnutstreettheatre.org