'Shrek' musical adds layers to film franchise

Costa Mesan returns home to play the part of Pinocchio in the show at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

September 30, 2011|By Candice Baker, Special to the Pilot
  • Luke Yellin as Pinocchio, center, performs "Freak Flag" with other fairy-tale creatures in the "Shrek the Musical" national tour.
Luke Yellin as Pinocchio, center, performs "Freak… (Joan Marcus )

The Pinocchio who will walk onstage next week at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, just a few miles away from Disneyland, isn't for the fainthearted.

Costa Mesa resident Luke Yellin will perform as the wooden puppet in "Shrek the Musical," but his Pinocchio is a far cry from the docile, naïve wooden puppet of cartoon fame.

"Cheated by a fox, swallowed by a whale," yet still believing he is a real boy, Pinocchio lives in denial through much of the show.

The kid-friendly musical version of "Shrek," based on the wildly popular 2001 DreamWorks film and a 1990 book of the same name, tells the story of a flatulent ogre with a good heart, a princess with a mean judo chop, a vertically challenged would-be prince, a wise-cracking donkey and an assortment of evicted fairy-tale creatures.

The musical delves into the back stories of the characters, making it an addition to the "Shrek" series rather than a revamping of the first film.


"It's definitely geared toward kids, but there are some more mature jokes that go right over their heads," Yellin said.

His Pinocchio evokes "Les Miserables" during his big number, "Freak Flag," in which the fairy-tale creatures gain confidence in themselves.

"They learn that everything that makes you different is what makes you strong," Yellin said. "It's really a great message, and it all revolves around Pinocchio. It's a cool little featured part. It's definitely a darker version of Pinocchio than the Disney one … I feel like you just have to be kind of a freak to be in the show. This Pinocchio is sort of a really high falsetto, and I can just kind of do that. Hopefully I don't lose my voice. It seems to be going strongly."

Cast members and the public have debated since the show's debut about whether the actor playing Shrek or the actor playing little Lord Farquaad has it worse; the former wears an excruciatingly warm ogre suit, but the latter is required to perform the entire show on his knees, using an ingenious cape contraption that covers his lower torso.

"Farquaad is holding up," Yellin said. "His knees are doing OK. They're pretty well padded. Our Farquaad is I think the best one there's been, honestly. But our Shrek is here two hours before all of us even get here, and his suit's hot and sweaty, and he has ice that he has to wear for overheating. He's a real trooper. Really talented, and really young, too; he's only 23, so his body can take it, I guess."

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