Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s High School presents: Shrek the Musical

Sleepy Eye – Based on the beloved 2001 DreamWorks film “Shrek,” “Shrek the Musical” was first performed on Broadway from September 2008 until January 2012.

This spring, the production has been taken up by a group of students from St. Mary’s High School, Sleepy Eye, led by Director Julie Neubauer and Choreographer Gary Sassenberg.

Written by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright David Linsay-Abaire and Tony Award nominee Jeanne Tesori, the musical revives the contemporary, twisted, upside down fairytale of Shrek, Donkey and Fiona, according to a synopsis provided to The Journal by Neubauer.

The irreverent, fun, screwball comedy is a parody that takes place in a faraway kingdom full of misfit fairytale creatures: a Gingerbread cookie with an attitude; an officious Prince named Farquaad, played by Jon Lax; a feisty firecracker of a princess named Fiona, played by Bethany Berkner; a very chatty donkey, Nick DeMaris; and an unseemly Ogre named Shrek, Mike Hirsch.

Shrek has a great appeal for adults, as well as the younger generation, notes the synopsis. The unlikely hero does not refrain from contradicting and mocking every stereotype in our society. He is an ogre, no doubt: uncouth, irreverent, smelly, outspoken and wounded.

The musical, like the movie, ends with a resounding version of the 1970’s Monkees’ hit “I’m a Believer.”

The SESM production involves a cast and crew of 50 students, says Neubauer.

“I am blessed with a wonderful, hardworking cast comprised of four-year veterans amid some very enthusiastic first-timers,” she adds.

The cast has been at work since Christmas vacation, says Neubauer.

Bethany Berkner comments on her experience in the role of Fiona:

“When Fiona is rescued from the castle, you get to see her energetic, silly and almost insane side. It has been so much fun to act out her part and be absolutely crazy on stage. A lot of practices have been canceled and shortened due to the weather this year. I am not worried because we have been working hard lately and we will have a wonderful performance to show everyone. The wide variety of fairytale creatures adds so much to the play and will keep you entertained. There isn’t one scene in the musical that you won’t burst out laughing!”

“Practice is going very well, everyone is working hard to learn their parts,” adds Jon Lax (Prince Farquaad). “My character, Lord Farquaad, is a funny, arrogant, short, diminutive guy with big dreams of becoming king that fall ‘short’ of becoming a reality. ‘Shrek the Musical’ is a family-friendly event, so come and see it for yourself.”

Mike Hirsch (Shrek) reminisces that he has been in SESM musicals for four years. “However, I must say that working on this particular musical has been by far the most enjoyable,” says Hirsch. “Not only is the script an absolute pleasure to work with, but the music is phenomenal, as well. “Although this does not constitute an easy task, being that it is necessary, we work hard at every practice. I have been fortunate enough to be selected to play the part of Shrek, but more than that, blessed to be surrounded by some of the most talented high-school students to play the lead role: Bethany Berkner, Fiona, Nick DeMaris, Donkey, and Jon Lax, Farquaad, as well as an even more exuberant cast, technicians and assistant directors, who together comprise the family of the cast of ‘Shrek.’ Except I am forgetting one thing: the person without whom nothing could be possible, our director, Mrs. Neubauer. I am not kidding when I say her sole existence is why St. Mary’s has been known to have a little something special in their musicals,” concludes Hirsch.

As they muse on their work on the musical, Neubauer and cast members inevitably refer to the impact on it of a recent auto accident that claimed the lives of four young people, including a SESM student.

In a sense, play practice has been more than just that this year – it has helped the students deal with tragedy, grow closer.

“I have learned long ago to never underestimate the resiliency of the teen age, and this year, amid the pain and exhaustion faced by our school and community, these young adults have again shown me what beautiful creatures they are,” Neubauer says.

“We all took the recent tragedy, the loss of friends, very hard,” adds Nick DeMaris (Donkey). “But being at play practice was a huge help on the road to recovery. We all come together as a family every year, but this year it took on a new meaning. Every practice, you can feel the love and support that we pour out for each other. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but there’s no group of people I’d rather ride with. I love our cast and crew.”

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