Local talent ready to shine as J-DAPA brings ‘Shrek’ to stage

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Preparations for the Johnston Dance and Performing Arts, or J-DAPA, production of “Shrek” have entered the home stretch, and the early reviews are strong.

“Shrek” will run March 28-30 at Johnston High School, with all three shows taking place at 6:30 p.m. J-DAPA recently gave the Sun Rise a behind-the-scenes look at the cast, crew and build-up to opening night.

The show is based on the 2001 Dreamworks Animation film of the same name and the 1990 William Steig book “Shrek!” It follows the eponymous ogre and his donkey sidekick throughout his journey to rescue a princess.

Rebecca Silva, president of the board at J-DAPA, lauded the cast as “super talented.” What makes this show special, though, is the wide age range of the cast. Silva said the youngest crew member is 8, while the oldest is in his 50s.

Last Wednesday was the last day on which the cast performed just one act during rehearsal. From then on out, they are running the gauntlet. They will put on full shows every day at rehearsal, aiming for perfection.

Director Donna Tellier said working with such a large age group isn’t difficult, and it has even worked to the show’s benefit. She offered one example specifically – Grumpy, the character who plays Lord Farquaad’s dad, must be played by a child but voiced by an adult.

“The younger group, sometimes they can have less confidence, and then they see the older ones really act something out and it helps them,” Tellier said. “I think it really goes hand in hand and it really helps them out, to see the older ones putting more into it than they do, and they don’t have to feel less confident. It helps.”

Tellier said the final weeks before opening night would be especially hectic, since most major components of the production are coming together. The show’s dragon is arriving soon, as well as the backdrops. J-DAPA recently purchased an $8,000 lighting system – which was on full display during the Sun Rise’s visit – through fundraising efforts.

Tellier said the goal is to improve the arts and the auditorium, and it’s an added bonus that kids show more respect for school property.

“They have invested in it,” Tellier said. “They help do the fundraisers, the bazaars, we do little cabarets to help raise money. I see them now, if they see anybody standing on a seat or up in that sound booth, they’re like, ‘You need to get out of there.’ They care more. Not that they wouldn’t before, but I see a difference.”

If you’re asking the talent, they would say you’re in for a treat. Kyle Buonfiglio, fresh off playing “Newsies” lead Jack Kelly in another community production, takes on the title role in “Shrek.” He gave a short interview to the Sun Rise, while wearing his platform shoes, and said he always does his research when taking on a character.

“He’s your traditional ogre,” Buonfiglio said of Shrek. “Basically, he’s really hard on himself and on everything around him, and he brings his misery out to everyone. What’s cool about this show is that when you set on a quest to find a princess, it kind of brings out his softer side, and he didn’t expect it. And I think that’s really important to think about it, because you don’t have to stay to the norms of what you are, per se.”

Justina Mabray takes on the female lead of Princess Fiona, and it helps that she is already best friends with Buonfiglio. She said the rest of the cast has been “super sweet and really supportive.”

“Princess Fiona’s really fun,” Mabray said. “Every scene is very different with her. Sometimes she’s super bubbly, and other times she’s super aggressive, and it’s just very interesting trying to find a balance. It’s a lot of fun having multiple personalities on stage, because that’s what she’s known for, especially trying to hide her inner ogre.”

Nick Gallow, who will play the villainous Lord Farquaad, couldn’t stop smiling when talking about his fellow cast members. He said, with a laugh, that it was fun to play someone like Farquaad who is “arrogant and overconfident.”

“It’s just so much fun to change character from your normal life,” Gallow said. “[We have] the best cast. Shrek’s hilarious, everybody’s hilarious. The overall environment’s just so fun. Everybody’s so great.”

Johnny Cagno is responsible for the costumes, and he’s a seasoned veteran when it comes to “Shrek.” He said he’s costumed the production more than 10 times, and it’s easily one of the most makeup- and costume-intensive shows out there.

He pointed to the elaborate Duloc dancer costumes as some of the toughest outfits he’s ever had to create.

“I think that it’s been easier here versus other places because everyone’s in-house and can work together.” Cagno, of Fantasy Factory Costumes, said.

Tickets for “Shrek” can be purchased for $13 online at tututix.com/j-dapa, or $15 at the door. Tellier said it’s a small price to pay for nearly three hours of entertainment to get away from everyday life.

“The biggest draw, I think it’s just the comedy … I think we need humor so badly in this day and age,” she said. “I also think the hidden message of accepting one for who they are inside and out, which ends up happening with Shrek, is important. Also, the recognizable music – ‘I’m A Believer’ is in there, ‘Freak Flag.’ The music just gets you motivated.”

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