Shrek the Musical is on its way to Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre
Ninety minutes. Every day. That’s how long make-up artists take to transform Mid-Wales actor Steffan Harri into the nation’s favourite ogre – Shrek.
The show is back on the road for an extended run, including shows at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre from February 14 to 25.
The performances follow a record-breaking UK and Ireland Tour, during which it earned rave reviews.
Shrek the Musical is based on the story and characters from the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks Animation film.
The hilarious and spectacular production turns the world of fairytales upside down in an all-singing, all-dancing, must-see musical comedy.
Shrek and his loyal steed Donkey set off on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona (Laura Main) from her tower, guarded by a fire breathing love-sick dragon.
The fun gets serious with the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad, a gang of fairytale misfits, and a biscuit with attitude, creating an irresistible mix of adventure, laughter and romance that is guaranteed to delight audiences of all ages.
Steffan loves it: “I was over the moon to be given the part. I toured with Shrek and was an understood to Lord Farquaad. When I got the call to do the lead role this time, I was playing in Les Miserables. It doesn’t get much different from that to this. But I jumped at the opportunity. I was keen not to go back to the part of Farquaad because I’d done that. I thought it would be good to have a go at Shrek this time and a few auditions later they gave me the job. I was over the moon.”
He laughs when he remembers how he learned he was going to take the starring role. He was at work and it was about 7pm, half an hour before he was due on stage in Les Miserables in the West End. “It was incredible. I went on stage still buzzing from the news. That show was a bit of a whirlwind. But I do love Shrek the Musical. Not only is the music absolutely brilliant and a pleasure to sing every night, the show also has a book that is so funny and witty.”
In some respects, Shrek is like a pantomime. It’s designed equally with parents and children in mind – with some gags going over the kids’ heads and causing mirth among their parents.
“You’re right. It’s not just for the kids it’s for the adults as well. The dads who are dragged for the Saturday matinee come out laughing because of the Lord Farquaad material. The kids don’t really get that.”
Steffan is well-versed in the original 2001 Shrek movie, having enjoyed the best-selling computer-animated fantasy based on William Steig’s 1990 fairy tale picture book of the same name. He enjoyed the voice overs from Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow – not forgetting the equally enjoyable sequels.
“I’m 26 now so I was about 10 when it came out. I remember quite vividly going to the Welshpool Solar Cinema to watch it. When I got the job, I went back to watch the film. It really is brilliant.” Shrek is a real feather in Steffan’s cap. After all, he’s still only 26 and is already leading the line in major touring productions. He learned his trade in a quite backwater, Caereinion, in Mid-Wales, near Welshpool.
“They didn’t offer drama at Caereinon High School so I looked elsewhere and Theatr Maldwyn came about in year 7-8. I learned a lot from the three teachers there and that helped me massively. That made me look elsewhere and that’s when I decided to do drama and gained a place at the Guildford School of Acting. It was a fantastic school and I had the best three years there learning some fantastic skills. Now I’m out working – and that’s when the real learning starts.”
Steffan is thoroughly enjoying his career. He’s striking out, making a name for himself and taking up opportunities that come his way. “It’s great and there’s such variety – literally, from Les Miserables to Shrek.
“This part is totally different to everything I’ve ever done before. I have a 90-minute make-up call every day so that I can be fully transformed with prosthetics. After that, I have to put on the costume and that weighs an additional 45lbs.” Once all that is done, he’s transformed and ready to play the ogre. He has created his own interpretation of Shrek from scratch, putting his own stamp on it.
“It’s unusual to go out when you’re so heavily made up. After the show, I go out of the stage door onto the street and pass people who’ve seen the show and they have no idea that it was me. But the anonymity doesn’t mean I don’t connect with Shrek – I do. OK, so Lord Farqaad steals a few scenes, but Shrek is completely believable. He has to be.”
Life is moving quickly for Steffan and he’s looking forward to starring at a major theatre in Birmingham so early into his career.
“I never thought I’d be leading a show at the age of 26. It’s a great honour and I’ve very fortunate to them for giving me the opportunity. But there’s a lot more that I’d like to do. I’d love to do straight drama and TV as well. I’ve done a bit of TV back in Wales on S4C and I would love doing more and see where it takes me. I’d like to work again in London again too. Working and being happy and healthy is as much as I can ask for and I’m very grateful that I have these opportunities.”