Flying the Freak Flag

There are several avenues to take in discussing Shrek The Musical, which puts DreamWorks' animated blockbuster on stage at the Broadway Theatre. There is Broadway's Avenue Q, which shares with Shrek its director, Jason Moore, and co-star John Tartaglia, who plays three roles in the show. There is its triple-threat designer, Tim Hatley, who took on the challenges of set, costume, and puppet design for the show not long after finishing work on Monty Python's Spamalot, which opened in 2005. There is the lighting design, by Hatley's Spamalot colleague Hugh Vanstone, which gives the show a once-upon-a-time sheen, subtly supplemented by projections and LEDs coordinated by media associate Laura Frank.

But the best place to start is with farts. It doesn't take long for the star to break wind, and gas of various kinds is passed in the Act II number “I Think I Got You Beat.” Jokes sound designer Peter Hylenski, “The day we had burp and fart auditions was the day we were all wondering where our careers had led us. It was me, Jason, the composer, Jeanine Tesori, and the book and lyrics writer, David Lindsay-Abaire, sitting around a table listening to a computer play back numerous recordings. We played them all through, and if something caught someone's ear, they'd say ‘that's a funny fart,’ and we'd classify them. They had to fit musically as well. Jeanine had a hard time with the burps and left the table after a while. It did get a little gross.”

Shrek The Musical required that its design team get down and dirty. Though the movie, and William Steig's book, provided a template, transitioning the Oscar-winning ogre off the screen and onto the stage was not a by-the-numbers task. The inaugural live-action offering from DreamWorks Theatricals, the $20-million show is a coproduction with Neal Street Productions. “Knowing Sam Mendes and Caro Newling at Neal Street and having done Spamalot, my first musical, got me involved,” says Hatley. “They were keen to find a team that hadn't done the project 101 times before. They wanted relative newcomers, and we all fit the bill.”

The show tried out at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre last August and September, before opening on Broadway this past December. “Creating it has been a huge chunk of our lives,” says Hatley, who adds that part of it was waiting. “For a year and a half, there was nothing on my notepad except the word ‘Shrek.’ There was no score and no book, no indication of whether it was going to be just the first film, as was eventually decided, or the two sequels as well, and no title. It was an open book, and I just got on with it. I started the design first, as Jeanine and David were writing away. The sketches and models, based on the movie characters, helped get us going, and slowly the songs and storyline appeared.” Not in any fixed order, however: “I knew the show would keep changing, with scenes switched around and so forth, so I made the design as flexible as possible.”

“Cue for cue, there's very little of the lighting left from Seattle to New York,” says Vanstone. “Everything was revisited, sometimes again and again. This was not a conventional show, where you pick up a script and just do it. It kept on changing, not ripping up sheets and throwing them away but cutting and pasting one thing with another, more than I've ever known in a New York preview period.”

With everything up for grabs in the early stages, the biggest decisions involved how much to stick to the 2001 movie, says Hatley. “Shrek, for example — should he look exactly like the one in the films? Should he be slightly more clothed? Does he have to be green and bald? So we tried different things, but they were all a little disappointing. There was no point in pretending that we weren't doing Shrek The Musical.”

The designers could, however, do it differently. “The clothes in the movie are plain and not very detailed,” Hatley relates. “At the beginning of the project, I spent a few days with the animators in LA, who were working on Shrek the Third. They said that the one thing they weren't able to do on the first Shrek was animate fabric, which was time-consuming and expensive. If I just copied the film, it would look really, really dull. So we went for great cuts, colors, and textures.”

Shrek's lady love, Princess Fiona (played by Sutton Foster, the queen of screen-to-stage musicals), has a bodice made from organza, cut velvet, and a silk base. “Color-wise, it's a number of greens that work well with Sutton,” says Hatley. Donkey (Passing Strange co-star Daniel Breaker), who accompanies Shrek on his journey to free Fiona from a dragon-guarded castle, is clad in a costume made entirely from bespoke fur. “It's not an off-the-shelf fun fur, but something unique with a scale to it. It's a stretched net, with short suede cord ties individually tied on, like a rug, and lightweight and aerated.”

Hatley says an early call was made regarding Shrek's vertically challenged nemesis, the fairytale-hating Lord Farquaad, who is played by Spamalot veteran Christopher Sieber. “The design is a simple vaudeville trick, just sticking a pair of shoes on his kneecaps. We cover his shins in a shin guard that is molded to his leg and heavily padded. The shoes are on a complicated, articulated mechanism that allows the feet to move up and down so it appears as if he's walking; it's not just a shoe glued to his kneecaps but on a pivot arm. Christopher was always going to be on his knees all night long, no matter how lightweight and comfortable we could make his costume. And he never questioned that. All of the actors were game for what we were doing.”

Broadway veteran Brian d'Arcy James, in the title role, is encased in a green prosthetic head that takes 90 minutes to get on. “His costume is basically an enormous fat suit, but we had to get it moving, so it wasn't like a stuffed cushion,” Hatley says. “We layered in different types of foam, with different weights, so it's sort of like a bean bag, with a belly that hangs and sags. It's got holes cut into it so that air can travel up, though it's still hot. He's got a release mechanism on the top outer layer of his wool costume that can clip away very quickly and open up so air can get to him very quickly when he comes offstage.”

The costume design required close interaction with wig and hair designer David Brian Brown, makeup designer Naomi Donne, and prosthetic makeup designer Michael Marino. “The noses we designed for the fairytale creatures were a bit of a nightmare for the sound department, as they got in the way of the microphones,” Hatley says. “Pinocchio's motor-driven growing nose, surprisingly, wasn't a problem, maybe because it was the biggest and longest, and it was always in one continuous place, and John Tartaglia is in costume most of the time. The three bears were very difficult, because the microphone has to be in a general position in each head, and the actors are playing lots of other characters and changing in and out of the costumes.”

Hylenski concurs that mic positions on actors were a concern. “Shrek is such an iconic figure, and his head has to look a certain way,” he says. “Midway through Seattle, we finally settled on something: We built them into his nose and cheek-piece, to the left and right corners of his mouth facing downwards, which gives us two to use for backup, but it was a compromise. The four main characters all wear two mics for redundancy purposes. The ensemble members were trickier. The noses of the bears allowed us to get the mics in a typical position, around the forehead or over the eyes, but the prosthetics, which covered the physical noses of the actors, changed the way they vocalized. We ended up with resident chambers within the nose areas of the characters. If we just got rid of the noses, they wouldn't be the characters anymore. So we created porous panels within the prosthetics, which are made from material that we use on the speakers that are in the scenery. If the actor puts the nose on a little differently it changes the sound that night, but that's part of live theatre.”

The mics are Sennheiser MKE 1s, which the show beta-tested. “We took delivery of the first batch,” says Hylenski. “It's a fantastic product, half the size of what we were using before.”

Hatley also decided to get his hand in on the puppet aspect of the show. “I'd designed puppets when I was seven years old, which was my introduction to theatre design,” he says. “A problem with big shows is that you can have too many designers, and as there aren't that many puppets in the show, I just thought I'd pursue it.”

The main puppet is “Gingy,” the embattled Gingerbread Man, who is served up on a plate and tortured by the villainous Farquaad in a scene cleverly adapted from the movie. “A human-sized Gingerbread Man would throw everything out of scale, so it seemed absolutely ideal for him to be a puppet,” says Hatley. “From their Avenue Q experience, John and Jason had ideas about how it could be operated and what parts could move at the same time. There are actually different Gingys, as they're all in separate locations, with one on a small tray and the other on the main tray.”

But the largest is the dragon, which reaches up to 16' high. Its head is a puppet, with a steel dolly base that is manipulated by Tartaglia, the show's puppet captain, who rides inside and maneuvers the stage via monitors inside the scale-encrusted casing; its “body” is a series of costumed female singers. “It changed from Seattle to New York, not so much in concept but in execution,” says Hatley. “The Seattle dragon head was more childish-looking; for New York, we really looked at the dragon in the film, and she now has its features. That was a DreamWorks decision. We still have a way to go with her; when we do this production again, we'll make it even better.”

Hatley's sets recall the ones in the film but do not duplicate them. The swamp where Shrek lives “is the swamp of the film, with a door set among stumps that abstractly form the house he has in the movie,” he says. “What I'm most proud is the floor of the stage, which PRG Scenic Technologies built for us. There are no tracks on it at all. There is one giant revolve, with a smaller revolve inside that, and an even smaller one inside that, all moving in different directions but very subtly. This enables, for example, Shrek's door to travel up and down stage and Fiona's castle to come up through the floor and move forward at the same time.”

The most complicated set element is Farquaad's advisor, the 12'-high by 8'-wide Magic Mirror, for which Hatley designed the mirror and frame. “We went through various ideas for that,” he says. “Should it be front-projected, or should there be a person inside? With DreamWorks behind us, we settled on an LED screen — a 600×400 pixel F-LED 11mm LED wall — and Live Time live animation, which may come as a surprise, as it looks like a prerecorded film segment. John Tartaglia has motion-capture points on his face, so as he moves in realtime, the animation changes on the screen. We have the potential to build in interactivity with the audience, but we haven't done that yet. It seems like we had forever to work on the show, but it's one of those things on a to-do list for now.”

Atop the to-do list from the start was deciding on a green for Shrek. “The lighting is always changing, as well as where Shrek is and what he's standing against: the green swamp, the white-blue of Farquaad's kingdom, Duloc, or the dark blue of the dragon's keep,” says Hatley. “A green that was effective in one setting didn't work in another; it would go yellow in the dragon's keep. Hugh worked closely with Naomi to get that working.”

“The green issue was more of a problem for Tim than for me,” Vanstone adds. “The bigger problem was that it is a massive show, with scenery that eats up space massively. We had to have enough lighting in the right place for that alone, before thinking about the actors. The sets and the costumes supply the color, so most of it is white light. Many of the sets are fairly two-dimensional, however, so I had to give them more depth.”

His customary use of Vari-Lite VL5s, along with VL500s and VL3000s, was an asset, “and they served me very well on this,” he says. So was projection, though not the kind that announces itself as such. “We more or less projected the scenery on top of itself, which gives it that depth and allows us to control the color a bit more by enriching a pale paint hue or making it go paler still.”

As media associate, Frank notes that the visuals don't take on the role of storytelling but are simply for enhancement. “Our discussions centered on our projection system and our idea of using LED-embedded sliders to animate and enliven the stage,” she says, adding that the three Scharff Weisberg-supplied Panasonic PT-D10000U 10K video projectors on the FOH rail are operational for 70% of the show to pick out scenic elements. “There's a game show sequence in Farquaad's castle where we're projecting kitschy flowers around the set or finding mossy color tones in the swamp set, which we couldn't do with lighting,” Frank continues. “We set up a camera in the center of the house and Photoshopped any images we needed for the projector.” Video content was built in Adobe After Effects and Motion. Four Green Hippo Hippotizer V3 HD media servers programmed on an MA Lighting grandMA are used on the show.

Philips Solid-State Lighting/Color Kinetics iFlex is embedded into eight pairs of scenic legs comprising 45,000 RGB LEDs. These are controlled by one 1,024×768 video signal, managed by the Hippotizer and processed by Philips/Color Kinetics VSE Pro. The LED sliders are perhaps most noticeable at the top of the show, as Shrek finds himself at home in his swamp. “Swamp grass ‘grows’ in the sliders,” says Frank. “There are six pairs of 30'-tall stage sliders that move from side to side and two static pairs downstage that border the set. We process one video image across a whole array. Using a system we developed in After Effects, we can track the physical position of the sliders on stage and output video files correctly.”

Outputting the music correctly fell to Hylenski. Ranging from the fantasy-filled “Big Bright Beautiful World” and “Freak Flag,” to ballads and comic turns, he says, “It's a blend of traditional musical theatre and rock ‘n’ roll, with a bit of film score thrown in. Jeanine really wanted it to breathe. The rig is mostly a d&b system, with Meyer Sound components. Its heart is a Meyer/LCS LX-300 system controlled by the Meyer/LCS Cue Console. Overlaid on top of the digital console is a whole slew of analog mic trees and outboard equipment to give it an old-school feeling.”

The show uses numerous ambient effects, from crickets in the swamp to dungeon noises, to bring the world of Shrek closer to the audience (but not too close: a dozen or so “Shrek roars” were tested, with the ones that scared kids discarded). Utilizing a portion of the theatre nicknamed “the vault,” Hylenski also built a mini-studio to house the rhythm section of the 23-piece orchestra, who are not in the pit but have audiovisual links to the conductor in their own acoustically treated space and can play out without drowning out the strings. “It gives the rhythm section a studio sound feel in the theatre, something Jeanine wanted,” he says.

For Hylenski, the show had a fairytale ending: In a relatively rare opportunity for a sound designer, he coproduced the cast album, due out this month. For the team, Shrek The Musical was about building a kingdom around a timeless emotion. Says Hatley, “There's a touching little love story in there. At one point, this show was three times as large as it is, and for various reasons, a lot of that fell away. The important thing, always, is that the tenderness shines through.”




Set, Costume, and Puppet Designer: Tim Hatley

Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone

Sound Designer: Peter Hylenski


Scenery Fabrication: PRG Scenic Technologies

Additional Scenery and Flying Automation: Hudson Scenic Studios

Additional Scenery: Scenic Art Studios, Inc.; Souvenir Scenic Studios Ltd.; Arquepoise Ltd.; Seattle Repertory Theatre

Video Projection System: Scharff Weisberg Inc.

Costumes: Tricorne, Inc.; Parsons-Meares, Ltd.; Eric Winterling, Inc.; Barbara Matera, Ltd.; Seams Unlimited; Crystal Thompson

Costume Crafts: Marian Jean Hose; Leigh Cranston; Erik Andor

Costume Mechanics: Jon Gellman Effects; Perfection Electricks; Michael Curry Design Inc.

Lighting Equipment: PRG Lighting

Sound Equipment: PRG Audio


Peter Lawrence


Associate Scenic Designer: Paul Weimer

UK Scenic Associate: Andrew Edwards

UK Scenic Assistant: Tim Blazdell

UK Model Makers: Ben Davies, Paul Tulley

Assistant Scenic Designers: Derek Stenborg, Zhanna Gervich


US Associate Costume Designers: Tracy Christensen, Brian J. Bustos

Associate Costume Designer: Jack Galloway

Assistant Costume Designers: Jessica Wegener, Sarah Laux

Costume Department Assistants: Leon Dobkowski, Katie Irish, Roxana Ramseur


Joint Production Electricians: Jimmy Fedigan, Randy Zaibek

Associate LD: Philip Rosenberg

Lighting Programmer: Sharon Huizinga

Assistant LD: Anthony Pearson

Followspot Operator: Andrew Dean


Associate Sound Designer: Keith Caggiano

Production Engineer: Phil Lojo

FOH Mix Engineer: David Dignazio

Backstage RF Technician: Dan Hochstine

Deck Sound: Bob Biemers


Laura Frank


Media Assistant: Joshua Fleitell

Project Manager: Randy Briggs, Scharff Weisberg Inc.

Account Manager: Lars Pedersen, Scharff Weisberg Inc.



2 MA Lighting grandMA Lighting Console

2 MA Lighting grandMA Light Lighting Console

2 19" Flat Panel LCD Monitor

7 17" Flat Panel LCD Monitor

2 Handheld Wireless RFU


6 ETC Sensor+ 96 × 2.4kw Dimmer Rack


56 Vari-Lite VL3000Q Spot

56 Vari-Lite VL5B Wash

35 Vari-Lite VL500 Wash

6 DHA 6-Light Digital Light Curtain

1 DHA 8-Light Digital Light Curtain

1 DHA DMX to Light Talk Controller for DMX Interface

76 ETC Source Four 14° Ellipsoidal

48 ETC Source Four 19° Ellipsoidal

17 ETC Source Four 26° Ellipsoidal

26 ETC Source Four 36° Ellipsoidal

64 ETC Source Four PAR NSP

27 ETC Source Four PAR MFL

4 ETC Source Four 12-Light MultiPAR MFL

2 ETC Source Four 3-Light MultiPAR MFL

4 ARRI Junior 5000 Fresnel

2 ARRI Daylight Compact 2500 Theatre Fresnel

18 PAR16 Birdie

5 L&E Mini-Strips MR16 EYC 42°

12 L&E 3-Cell Horizontal Broad Cyc

12 Altman UV-705 Blacklight Floodlight

90 GAM Products Star Strobe

20 High End Systems DataFlash AF1000 with Reflector

4 Martin Atomic 3000 DMX Strobe

6 Mini -10 w/No Barn Doors 300W

3 Lycian 1293 3kW Xenon Followspot

4 Wybron Coloram 10" Scroller

77 Wybron Coloram 7.5" Scroller

4 Wybron Coloram 4" Scroller

28 Wybron CXI 7.5" Scroller

4 Martin Professional Atomic Colors Scroller

14 Wybron 2K Eclipse I IT 811010 Mechanical Dowser

63 City Theatrical Tophat

75 City Theatrical Spill Ring

141 City Theatrical Flocked Tophat

28 City Theatrical Flocked Halfhat

2 4-Way 10" Barndoors for Wybron Eclipse Dowser

2 City Theatrical Beam Bender

20 Littlites with Dimmer and Stand


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8 JEM Fan

4 Bowen Fan


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3 8' Sections 20" Box Truss

4 10' Sections 12" Box Truss


3 Green Hippo Hippotizer HD Media Server

2 Panasonic PT-D10000U 10K Projector

600×400 pixels of XL Video F-LED 11

45,000 pixels of Philips Solid-State Lighting/Color Kinetics iFlex processed via VSE Pro System


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27 d&b audiotechnik D6 Amplifier

6 Powersoft Q3204


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3 Apple 23" HD Cinema Display

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2 Meyer Sound LCS CC2 TP Transporter Module

6 Meyer Sound LCS CC2 F16 Fader Module

2 Meyer Sound LCS CC Server 2U Linux Computer

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4 Neve 4081 4-Channel Remote Mic Pre


2 d&b audiotechnik B2 Subwoofer

8 d&b audiotechnik C7 Loudspeaker

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18 d&b audiotechnik E3 Loudspeaker

32 d&b audiotechnik E8 Loudspeaker

4 d&b audiotechnik J-SUB Subwoofer

24 d&b audiotechnik Q1 Loudspeaker

6 EAW UB12 Compact Loudspeaker

12 Innovox SF-204

22 Meyer Sound MM4 Miniature Loudspeaker

6 Meyer Sound UPJ-1P Powered Loudspeaker

3 Meyer UPJunior Powered Loudspeaker

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2 DPA DAD6001-BC Adapter

2 Neumann KM-140

1 Neumann TLM-170

5 Neumann U89

3 Neumann U87

5 Radial JDI Duplex

4 Royer R-122

4 Schoeps CMC6-MK4

7 Sennheiser e825-S

1 Sennheiser MD-421

2 Sennheiser MD-409

5 Sennheiser MD-431 II

1 Sennheiser MD-441

2 Sennheiser MKH40

4 Sennheiser MKH8040

50 Sennheiser MKE 1

3 Shure 514B

3 Shure SM-57


2 Aviom A-16D Pro A-Net Distributor

14 Aviom A-16II Personal Mixer

9 Aviom A-16R Personal Mixer

2 Aviom AN-16i Input Module

1 GKMusic Ultraphone

20 Sennheiser HD-25 Headphone

15 Sony MD-7506


1 Denon DN-CD680 CD Player

1 Tascam DV-RA1000HD Audio Recorder


4 Meyer Galileo Loudspeaker Management System

4 API 225L

7 API 253L

1 API L200PS Power Supply

1 API L200R 12 Slot Rack

7 Empirical Labs Distressor

1 Eventide H7600

1 Purple Audio MC-77

2 SPL De-esser

3 Summit DCL-200 Compressor/Limiter

1 TC Electronic S6000 Reverb w/ICON

2 TC Electronic M4000 Reverb

1 TC Electronic D-Two Digital Delay

1 TC Electronic Finalizer 96K

1 Tube Tech PE-1C Equalizer

1 Waves MaxxBCL


1 Masque Sound LM Series 48-Channel RF Monitor Main

2 Masque Sound LM Series 48-Channel RF Monitor Remote

19 Sennheiser EM3532-U Dual Receiver

36 Sennheiser SK-5212 Transmitter

2 Sennheiser SKP500G2 Plug On Transmitter

2 Sennheiser A5000CP Passive Antenna

2 Professional Wireless GX-4 Antenna Amplifier/Combiner

10 Lectrosonics IFBT4 Digital Hybrid Transmitter

10 Lectrosonics R400A Digital Hybrid Receiver

2 Lectrosonics RMP195 4 Unit Rackmount