By Tara Cavanaugh
Oh, for the love of Pete! The Pioneer Theater Guild is performing “Shrek the Musical” from April 27 to May 5, and the performance dates can’t come soon enough.
Pioneer is workshopping the musical, which means that the school can produce it without paying for the rights –– a cost of up to $7,000, said producer Susan Hurwitz. It also means that the director, producers and set designers have extra creative liberty, and the performance can influence the final version of the musical that is licensed by Musical Theater International.
“It’s so clever on so many levels,” said Hurwitz at a recent after-school rehearsal. “In other shows, sometimes characters are a bit one-dimensional. These characters are not. They’re so funny because they’re all so twisted.”
Workshopping is an opportunity earned by few theaters. Pioneer is just one of two high schools in the country to workshop Shrek. And this is Pioneer’s third workshop experience: It has previously workshopped Miss Saigon and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
“It’s a challenge to do these workshops, but it’s really fun,” said Etai BenShlomo, who directed Miss Saigon and Willy Wonka as a student in the University of Michigan musical theater program.
Productions are almost entirely student-run, with students participating in all aspects of the performance. A student board chooses the shows and does publicity. Students work on lighting, costume design, sets and props. And slightly older students from the U-M musical theater program, which is regarded as the best of its kind in the country, take on leadership roles.
All of this forms a huge community. “Everyone is important, and everyone feels valued,” BenShlomo said.
“Giving the kids this kind of accountability really makes them into leaders,” said Ashley Park, a senior in the U-M musical theater program who directed the guild’s production of West Side Story and last year’s Future Stars. “I’ve seen so many kids get such a boost of confidence, figure out who they are and make friends.”
Park also spent four years in the guild during high school, and she credits the experience as the reason why she is pursuing a career in musical theater.
“Pioneer has an incredibly unique program,” BenShlomo said. “I think you’ll see a lot of Pioneer Theater Guild students go on to do great, great things.”
Hurwitz points out that guild alumni have an impressive list of achievements. BenShlomo played Boq in Wicked on Broadway for two years, Park worked at the Pittsburg Civic Light Opera (a prestigious summer stock company), Zack Pearlman recently had a leading role in the TV series “Community” and Danny Mooney directed his first movie, “Love and Honor,” which is currently playing at the Michigan theater.
“Shrek the Musical” will be performed in Schreiber Auditorium on: Sat. April 27 at 7:30; Sun. April 28 at 2; Fri. May 3 at 7:30; Sat. May 4 at 2 AND at 7:30; Sun. May 5 at 2.
Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and PHS staff. Reserved seating is available in advance at showtix4u.com and will also be on sale one hour before showtimes.
“Shrek the Musical” is directed by Alex Kip with music direction by Robert Ariza, orchestra direction by Tyler Driskill, and choreography by Michael Hartung. The lyrics and book are by David Lindsay-Abaire and music is by Jeanine Tesori.
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