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Wednesday, February 2,2011

Off the screen and onto the stage

Alan Mingo Jr. follows in Eddie Murphy's famous hoofprints as Donkey in 'Shrek: The Musical'

by James Sanford

If you need someone to bring an animated character to life onstage, look no further than Alan Mingo Jr.


“It’s not my first time at the rodeo when it comes to that,” said the “Shrek: The Musical” star, with a laugh. “My first time was Simba in ‘The Lion King,’ and then I was Sebastian in ‘The Little Mermaid’ on Broadway.”


Now, he’s taking on the role of Donkey, the wisecracking best friend of the not-always-jolly green giant, Shrek.


“I don’t do impersonations, and that was a struggle at first,” Mingo said. For millions of moviegoers, Donkey will always be associated with Eddie Murphy, who voiced the character in the quartet of “Shrek” features. Mingo’s strategy was to remain true to the character while putting his own spin on the performance. “The directors allowed me to breathe some character into Donkey without being a carbon copy of Eddie Murphy, which was nice.”


Mingo also avoided the movies during in his research process.


“I saw most of the series before I knew I’d be going in for the audition,” he said.


“But once I got the job, I decided not to go back and revisit the animated films because I wanted to use the text (of the musical) as the impetus for creating this character, knowing you cannot outdo Eddie Murphy.”


After all, the stage “Shrek” is not a direct transfer of the screenplay. “We’re kind of throwing Donkey into this huge theatrical spectacle, and Donkey walks upright. He’s such an iconic character. I’m not gonna lie — it was stressful — but I’m having fun every night.”


The action in the musical follows the plot of the original “Shrek” film, “but that’s only 90 minutes long, and the show is about two hours and 20 minutes,” Mingo said.


“So you actually get to see some stuff that’s not in the movie, like Shrek being thrown out into the wild world by his parents, and Fiona as a little girl, when she was being placed in the tower. You see a little more of the fairy tale characters we all grew up with, and the script goes a little deeper into the characterizations and the roots of where these characters came from. You see why Lord Farquaad (the villain of the story) is such a tyrant.”


While most of the songs in the “Shrek” films came from the pop charts (Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” etc.), the stage show has an original score by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire. It also includes some tunes and effects that weren’t in the Broadway version.


“It’s great to get new material,” Mingo said. “With a lot of tours, the only changes they make are downsizing sets and scenery so that everything can fit in the theaters you’ll be playing in. But what the team did with ‘Shrek’ was to add some new songs, change some lyrics and bring in a new Dragon puppet, which is awesome, a real show-stealer. There were three turntables on the Broadway set, and they’ve brought that down to one — but the scenery is still as lush.”


‘Shrek: The Musical’
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8, Wednesday, Feb. 9, and Thursday, Feb. 10; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13
Wharton Center
$32.50-$67.50
(800) WHARTON
www.whartoncenter.com

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