Thanks to the High School Project, Alexandra Grant is already something of a veteran to the Grand Theatre stage, but the current production of Shrek The Musical is something new all together.
Shrek, which is playing until Dec. 28, offers the 17-year-old, who most recently performed as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family, her first opportunity as a professional actor.
“It has been great, but it has been very different. I have been learning more in a different way,” Grant said. “It feels the same (up on stage); I am comfortable up there. It is a normal place for me to be and I do love the stage.”
Based on the 2001 DreamWorks film, Shrek, the stage musical offered Grant the opportunity to play a younger version of the female lead, Fiona, who is rescued from imprisonment by the loveable ogre who has been charged with delivering her into the arms of the “vertically-challenged” bad guy, Lord Farquaad, played (on his knees) by Liam Tobin.
Grant plays teenaged Fiona (as well as an elf from the fairy tale world), which provided her with the chance to do something she always wanted to do.
“I’m not on as Fiona very long . . . but I love it. I have never played a princess before,” Grant said. “She is in her tower, she’s complaining, waiting for the day her prince to come. In my costume, it just feels so regal, feels so nice. It is so much fun.”
Grant said she learned a lot from just watching the shows leads, including Elicia MacKenzie, who plays Fiona, and Steve Ross, who — with the aid of a lot of green makeup and prosthetic horns — plays the ogre Shrek.
Ross said he didn’t mind the idea of using heavy makeup and prosthetics. In fact, he jokingly says director Susan Ferley could have “done whatever she wanted,” to him, he wanted the role that badly.
Still, being made up so heavily was actually a bonus, Ross said, in getting into his character.
“It is very heavy on your face, so it creates a different feeling. It isn’t like it’s comfortable, but you use that,” Ross said. “You learn to use the negative things as actors, turn them into positives on the stage. It feels weird, a bit greasy, but then again, he isn’t the prettiest of fellas. So it all helps.”
Ross said he had seen Shrek in New York, but had never seen the movie until after Ferley cast him
However, the movie’s portrayal wasn’t essential to his performance. After all, performing as a character that was sent away to live on his own at age seven, and had been living on his own for 20 years, provided plenty of material for Ross to grow into his role.
“I never thought of him as imaginary,” Ross said. “He is just a guy who has been shunned all his life, so you go back to that high school place, the baggage you had growing up, and you get to exorcise those ugly, awful feelings.”
Ross said he approached Shrek from the mindset of what it must have been like to never have any friends, or loved ones. And the interesting thing is — at the beginning of the show at least — that is just how Shrek wants it.
But then, the reluctant hero gets called upon for what Ross credits Ferley with calling “this hero’s journey,” and he has to learn how to be a good friend, how to fall in love, and even how to deal with having his heart broken.
“There are huge messages that aren’t really heavy-handed in the show. They come across beautifully,” Ross said. “There is such a strong message, not just in my character, but so many who need to learn to love themselves. I think that is done so well in the writing of this show.”
Ross said he never worries about being the so-called star, or having the responsibly of “carrying a show.” For him, his best experiences, whether he has played the lead character or not, is when that lead integrates himself into the company.
In the rehearsals leading up to the first show, Ross said he feels it is important to work with his fellow actors to help each other figure out how best to deliver a performance people won’t soon forget.
For example, Grant and Ross have very little to do, but he enjoyed spending time with her to “suss out” how various moments in the show can be addressed. That is what it means, Ross said, to be part of an ensemble, which he adds is truly what Shrek The Musical is.
“Donkey (played by Troy Adams) has virtually as much to do as I do. Fiona has an enormous amount to do,” Ross said. “I think I maybe have the responsibility of being team captain, but I think that’s great. I was always appreciative, when I was younger, to be included in things with the lead. I believe you pay that forward.”