(December 7, 2008)

The Look: Taking Shrek ogre the top

Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News

In 1990, he was a series of lines in a book by New Yorker cartoonist William Steig. In 2001, he moved to the big screen, in an Oscar-winning animated film.

Next Sunday, Shrek opens on Broadway, singing.

"Shrek: The Musical" stars Brian d'Arcy James as Shrek, Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona, Christopher Sieber as the pint-sized Lord Farquaad and Daniel Breaker as Donkey.

Also in the cast is Westchester's Marissa O'Donnell, in her Broadway debut, as the teenage Fiona.

"It's a fairly tale," says director Jason Moore, who also directed the Tony-winning "Avenue Q."

"Creating a world where all of those things live in harmony - or not harmony I suppose: ogres and cookies and donkeys - creating a believable space where they could all co-exist, was one of the biggest challenges."

One of the first people hired to work on "Shrek: The Musical" was Tim Hatley ("Spamalot") who, in the British tradition, signed on to design both sets and costumes.

"It's what I always do," Hatley says via phone from London. "To me, it just seems to make sense because as you're thinking about the space, you're thinking about the character and how the character looks. The two dovetail, but in reality, they're two very different jobs."

Hatley says he began the process three years ago with the question: "How do I find this world?"

He began with the Steig book, then watched the 2001 film, upon which much of "Shrek: The Musical" is based and visited the DreamWorks Studios in California to immerse himself in the animators' world.

"They have a whole complicated color wheel in terms of how they color the film," Hatley says.

The colors Hatley chose - muted greens and browns for the swamp and forest, cool grays and blues for the castles - are a dull palette from which the brightly colored fairy-tale creatures pop.

"That was a deliberate choice for me," he says, "because in the film they don't do that. That, to me, was very important, to make the characters come alive and to be bold with color."

Moore says Hatley's work gave the rest of the creative team - composer Jeanine Tesori and book and lyric writer David Lindsay-Abaire, among them - a road map.

"The way characters were conceived - Shrek's makeup, the look of the Gingerbread Man, the height of Farquaad - was going to inform the world they lived in," the director says. "And we ended up writing to those concepts. If the short jokes (about Farquaad) worked, we wrote more of them. If you know something's a puppet and it has a funny expression, you write to that, the same way you write to actors."

There are puppets here, and huge trees and foreboding castles and rickety footbridges.

"The scenic world is important - there are dragons and big set pieces - but this is essentially about three characters walking in the woods," the director says.

There came a time when the film was of no more use to Hatley.

"At some point you have to let the film go and do your own thing," he says. "I haven't watched the film in over a year. You're not doing 'Shrek' the film, you're doing 'Shrek: The Musical.' It should nod towards it, and it shouldn't disappoint, but making a faithful copy doesn't interest me."

Hatley adapted scenery or costumes to details added by the score. When the show had its tryout in Seattle in August, it took on the structure and order it will have when the curtain rises on Opening Night.

Shrek's look - how Brian d'Arcy James becomes an ogre - also evolved.

"We knew that a guy with a green face and a couple of horns wasn't going to do it," Hatley says. "We did some low-budget versions of Shrek, with masks and things, but you couldn't see his expression. And you cannot have a whole musical with a guy who can't express. We needed someone world-class."

Hatley turned to prosthetic artist Michael Marino, a Bardonia native.

Marino, a self-taught sculptor and prosthetic artist - and graduate of Clarkstown North High School - had helped turn Susan Sarandon into a withered crone in the film "Enchanted."

But that was the design of makeup legend Rick Baker. Shrek was to be all Marino's work.

"He's not exactly the same as the one in the movie," Hatley says. "The one in the movie, his eyes are in a different place, his whole proportion isn't really to do with a human face. So there was quite a lot of work to do. Mike Marino is just fantastic. I'm thrilled with the work he's done."

Marino's design follows the contour of d'Arcy James' face and builds on it.

"You can't do it with just the big ears and the head," Marino says. "That's the beauty of the makeup, trying to combine the actor and the character and finding compromises that will make that work. And you've got to make it mobile."

Marino's Nanuet workshop - Prosthetics Renaissance Studios - looks as if Santa's elves had gone to the dark side: There are ogre heads, ogre ears, ogre chins, cheeks, foreheads and arms. It's Shrek all ogre.

"They're like puzzle pieces," he says. "You put one piece on and the next piece follows and they all interconnect."

It begins with a cowl of sorts that gives Shrek the rounded head and those tubular ears. Think of it as a spongy, green wimple. It can get hot inside the silicone hood, so Marino cut interior channels to make it lighter. Air holes in the scalp let it breathe.

Next is a piece that broadens d'Arcy James' nose and includes Shrek's pock-marked cheeks. These prosthetic pieces, which feel flimsy and squishy - a bit like firm, green jello - are glued to the actor's face.

"After a while, it heats up to the temperature of his skin and you almost don't notice it," Marino says.

Next comes the furrowed brow that blends the cowl to the actor's face. Last is the ogre's jutting chin.

Then a thin layer of green makeup is sprayed on to give d'Arcy James that all-over green hue. Darker greens and browns give the face dimension.

Marino worked closely with the actor in finding the right approach to the makeup. "He's remarkably patient," Marino says.

He'd have to be. It takes about 100 minutes in the chair to turn actor into ogre and about 40 minutes to turn him back.

"Nothing like this has ever been done before, especially on Broadway" Marino says.

"Even in film, the amount of time he wears this makeup surpasses any other movie ever. Even on 'The Grinch' or 'Planet of the Apes,' they're in that makeup for a month or two or three. This is ongoing. He wears this makeup 300, 400 times a year."

That'd turn anyone into an ogre.

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