‘Shrek: The Musical’ hits Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Shrek' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 1)

It’s not every day that WTOP gets to chat with a giant ogre in Columbia, Maryland.

Toby’s Dinner Theatre is hosting “Shrek: The Musical” from March 23 to June 13.

“‘Shrek’ has been described as the greatest fairytale never told,” director Mark Minnick told WTOP. “It spins the fairytale world upside-down with a fun, contemporary edge.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the story follows the evil Lord Farquaad, who exiles fairytale creatures to the swamp of a grumpy ogre named Shrek, who must join his talkative sidekick Donkey on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona.

“It’s Shrek, everyone’s favorite ogre, embarking on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking donkey and a feisty princess,” Minnick said. “Throw in a short-tempered bad guy, a dragon with a fiery voice, fairytale misfits and you have a vibrant, hysterical, heartfelt musical like no other.”

The 2001 film won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature, sparking three sequels with “Shrek 2” (2004), “Shrek the Third” (2007) and “Shrek Forever After” (2010), two holiday TV specials with “Shrek the Halls” (2007) and “Scared Shrekless” (2010), and two spinoffs, “Puss in Boots” (2011) and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (2022).

“I have to admit, it’s a lot of Mike Myers and listening to Brian d’Arcy James just rock this score was a lot of my muse for developing this character,” lead actor Russell Sunday said. “When you come to see this, hopefully my goal is to give you that level of quality when you come and say, ‘That guy really sounded like the guy on Broadway.'”

The 2008 Broadway musical adaptation also starred Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire.

“There’s just great storytelling and really great dynamic lyrics and a really strong pop-rock contemporary score,” Sunday said. “It just covers the absolute rainbow of musical styles.”

The songbook is paired with dazzling visuals that transform the theater space.

“It’s like you are watching magic in front of you,” founder Toby Orenstein said. “In that circular space, all these characters come to life. … There’s a bathtub, there’s a horse, there’s fire that comes out of a dragon, there’s a gingerbread man that they cut in half on top of a table and you go, ‘What is going on? How are they doing these things?'”

Adding to the magic is the wardrobe styled after the Tony-winning costumes.

“It is a package that is provided by a touring company that acquired the touring costumes, so it will be a lot of the same costumes,” Minnick said. “Some Broadway names are still labeled inside some of the costumes.”

“There’s a lot of R&D that goes into a makeup design,” Sunday said. “A lot of it was provided by the costume itself with the prosthetics. … They’re just phenomenal costumes that we were able to acquire and use that are worth the ticket price alone.”

Of course, none of it would matter without a talented cast to bring it all to life.

“We have a fantastic cast and crew,” Sunday said. “MaryKate Brouillet is playing Fiona and she’s phenomenal, beautiful, great, quirky and fun. Bryan Jeffrey is playing the Donkey and he’s hilarious and a great scene partner and someone to play off. … Jeffrey Shankle plays the President of Duloc and Lord Farquaad. It’s a cast of leads.”

As always, you can enjoy the show with your choice of prime rib, chicken or salmon served straight to your table — a socially-distant change inspired by the pandemic to avoid buffets.

“We closed down one week before ‘Shrek’ was to open last year,” Minnick said. “We did open around the holiday season with an original musical, ‘Home for the Holidays’ …  then we were ready to open ‘Godspell,’ but in early January, we made the decision to take a pause. … We feel that now is the time to dip our toe back in, actually put our whole foot in and walk forward. We are ready.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Shrek' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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