Like a certain Saturday Night Live alumnus, known for playing British rogue Austin Powers, Ernst Van Gameren has a knack for giving voice to some colourful characters, especially ones with Scottish accents.
A longtime delivery driver for The Morning Star, Van Gameren’s talents come from watching a lot of cartoons as well as Austin Power movies, where he can match the thick brogue of that famously gluttonous character Fat Bastard (baby-back ribs, anyone?).
Van Gameren also does a mean version of a certain green ogre, who like Fat Bastard is also voiced by Canadian comic Mike Myers. So when it came time for Van Gameren’s wife Charity, a local musical theatre/voice instructor who runs Vernon’s Lights of Broadway, to stage her annual musical, she knew just who to cast as her lead.
Van Gameren will soon be unrecognizable as the lovable Scottish accented swamp dweller when Lights of Broadway presents Shrek The Musical at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre for four shows next week.
“I’m completely Dutch, so I don’t know where I got it from,” said Van Gameren when asked how he got his talent for accent mimicry. “The kids get me to do voices for them all the time. I like the Scottish character Shrek the most. He’s a big, lumbering idiot. He tries to be mean and nasty and have nothing to do with people, but inside he’s a marshmallow.”
Did we mention, Shrek sings in this show.
Based on Dreamworks’ hit animated film, Shrek the Musical first appeared on the Great White Way in 2008. The Van Gamerens first saw the production when Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars produced it last summer. In fact, many of the costumes the Lights cast are wearing come from that production.
“When you have a cast of 120 you have to get inventive,” said Charity. “This has myths, fairytales and nursery rhymes all coming to life. The kids are so excited to do the fairytale characters.”
A full-blown musical with numbers that run the gamut from traditional show theatre to the blues, with titles such as Freak Flag and the anthem I’m A Believer (the only song in the musical that comes from the original film), there’s even a tap number, with all the dance choreographed by Cherise McInnis.
“We spoof a lot of music genres. There’s (baritone crooner) Barry White, a western spoof on Wicked, and odes to Gypsy, Dreamgirls, and even A Christmas Carol,” said Dr. Steven Friesen, who plays vertically challenged bad guy Lord Farquaad.
For those who have seen the films, Shrek actually puts a spin on those fairytales and features satirical humour – through parody, one liners and sarcasm – that has made it a hit with all ages.
“The musical features slight differences in the story, but is really faithful to the movie,” said Megan Barss, who plays the talkative Donkey, made famous in the film by the voice of Eddie Murphy.
“This is physical comedy, which is different from what I’m comfortable with. I’ve been working on his voice, how it goes up and down, and the energy. There’s a lot of preparation. It’s Eddie Murphy, who’s amazing, so people are expecting a lot.”
Like the film, there are love interests for the two main characters. In the musical, Donkey is once again burned then wooed by the amorous Dragon, which is played in the production by a giant pink and purple-headed puppet, courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars.
Then there’s Princess Fiona, who is hiding a big secret, which includes a very quick makeup and costume change for Sydney Cochrane.
“She brings a voice of reason to Shrek’s life,” said Cochrane. “She’s a great character, and is fun to play. She’s a strong lady and has a beautiful, hopeless romantic side.”
Standing at about three-and-a-half-feet tall, with prosthetic legs attached, Friesen, says he is getting used to walking around on his knees, and describes Farquaad, the fairytale creatures’ arch nemesis, “as an evil child with a large chip on his shoulders.”
“He sings about having daddy issues, which plays on the fairytale of Grumpy and the Seven Dwarfs. His mother was the princess of Princess and the Pea.”
Other notable characters include the Gingerbread Man “Gingy”, played here by Ariel Klim, who also takes on the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“I have to figure out two different voices. They have a split personality: Gingy has this high pitched voice and the Sugar Plum Fairy is in a lower register,” said Klim, who uses a hand puppet for her edible character. “Kids come up to me to see Gingy. They know all my lines.”
Nelya McDowell has her own appendage to get used to as Pinocchio.
“He’s whiny and complaining about how he is not a real boy. And then there’s his nose growing. He describes it as a glandular condition.”
With Sarah Mori Jones as acting coach, the cast has been able to work on character development, important in the show’s underlying theme of friendship, self-acceptance, and sticking together when times are tough.
“She really makes you think of what the characters are thinking… You come to realize what a hermit Shrek is and why his friendship with Donkey is so important. Then there’s Fiona’s feelings about being locked away and why she is tormented.
“It’s been fun to watch all these characters develop over nine months,” said Charity.
Also important to the production is the set, which goes from a swamp to a castle, designed by Liza and Mark Judd.
“All sides of the stage are full. Part of the magic is seeing all of it come together behind the scenes,” said Friesen.
Like the song goes, it’ll have your freak flag flying.
Shrek the Musical takes the stage at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Thursday, May 7 to Saturday, May 9. Curtain opens nightly at 7 p.m. with a Saturday matinée at 2 p.m. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, and cost is $30 for adults and $27 for students and seniors. Call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.