Much like the hero of “Shrek the Musical” emerging on a mercy mission, the Kearny High School Musical Theatre Academy marks its second year back from the COVID-19 quagmire, returning to the stage with a production featuring the mythical ogre.
The show opens March 16 for a weekend run at the high school.
In March 2020 the KHSMTA was primed to present “The Adams Family” but was forced to close opening night after several of the lead players fell ill and, the following year, with the pandemic in full swing, there was no show.
But last year, the Academy was back in the fold with a successful performance of “In the Heights” and now it’s “Shrek” in the spotlight.
Milagros “Milly” Gonzalez, director/choreographer, said this year’s production is unique in two ways.
“For 90% of this cast (37 girls and 13 boys), it will be their first time on the stage and all will be doubling as stagehands,” she explained.
Fortunately, Gonzalez said, the Shrek story, a children’s picture book created by William Steig in 1990 — subsequently adapted by DreamWorks Animation as a popular film starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow — was well-known to this generation of students who, the director noted, “seem to have grown up modeling Shrek (by) accepting others for their differences.”
As outlined by Wikipedia, the story tracks the odyssey of “an embittered ogre named Shrek (who) finds his swamp overrun by fairy tale creatures banished by the obsessive ruler Lord Farquaad. With the help of Donkey, Shrek makes a pact with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona in exchange for regaining control of his swamp.”
KHSMTA is using the Broadway version of the story, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori. Professional musicians from the tri-state area, led by KHS alum Danny Conde, will accompany the actors.
Conde has served as instrumental music director for Harrison High School productions the past six years.
“Shrek” marks his second appearance in Kearny.
Assuming the lead roles in the Kearny show are 9th-grader Miguel Pinero, as Shrek; 12th-grader Matthew Ganzer, as Donkey; 10th-grader Gia Kaminski, as Fiona; 11th-grader Joseph Hurtado, as Lord Farquaad (he played “Mr. Softee” in last year’s production of “In the Heights”); and 10th-grader Brianna Lopez, as Dragon (she played Daniela in “In the Heights”).
Miguel, Matthew and Gia are all first-time Academy performers.
The script calls for Shrek to speak in a thick Scottish accent, but that presented no problem for Miguel.
“My grandfather is from Scotland and I got the accent from him,” he explained.
As for the four solo numbers assigned to his character, Miguel is an accomplished singer, as evidenced by his having performed with “American Young Voices,” an international educational organization which sponsors concert programs, combining student choruses from around the Garden State in multiple public performances.
For Matthew, “Shrek” will be his first musical, but he’s not entirely new to the world of show business — his dad is a professional Broadway stagehand.
Matthew’s casting came about by chance.
“I had joined a singing group (separate from the Academy) at school and people in the group suggested I try out for the role of Donkey,” he said.
Matthew has been watching videos and tracks of the show to better familiarize himself with the songs.
Gia, who was promoted from understudy to tackle Fiona, is no stranger to musical performing: she studied at the Kearny-based Vision Dance Studio 12 years and has done shows with several theatrical troops outside her hometown, the most recent being “Applause” in Scotch Plains.
Gonzalez, who is directing her 14th show in Kearny, offered a teaser of what, in particular, to look for from her young but spirited thespians’interpretation of “Shrek” — “lots of ogre humor and lots of energy from Donkey.”
Key helpers include Owen Seaver, vocal director; John Bednarczyk, art and lighting director; David Caravella, sound design; and Kathleen Astrella, business administrator.
The show runs March 16, 17 and 18, at 7 p.m., at the KHS auditorium. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for students and senior citizens. There’s also an extra treat in this year’s program: KHSMTA will offer a “Fairytale Fun Day,” for ages 3 and older, on March 18, from noon to 3 p.m., at the high school, featuring “Pinnochio Limbo,” face painting, photos with the cast, vocal excerpts from the show, musical chairs, story time with Shrek and Friends, special prize from a treasure chest and light refreshments for $1. Admission is $5.
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York