Wheatland-Chili Drama Club performing “Shrek The Musical” next weekend

Cast members of the upcoming Wheatland-Chili production of “Shrek The Musical” take a moment from a dress rehearsal to gather together. Featured from left to right: Annika Nestler (Donkey), Colin Hogue (Shrek), Madeline Jewell (Fiona), Angelina Collato (Pinocchio), Jenna LaMere (Gingy), and Josh Lewis (Lord Farquaad). Photo courtesy of Jason Ford.

BY JENNIFER CROWLEY
Though winter continues to bring snow, wind, and cold, many students at Wheatland-Chili High School have hardly noticed. Yes the Kingdom of Far, Far Away and its ogres, beloved fairytale characters, and a sassy donkey have brought respite from a long winter. And now the district’s Drama Club is nearly ready to raise the curtain on its 2019 theatre production, “Shrek The Musical,” based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation hit “Shrek” that spawned three sequels.

In the story, Shrek, an ogre, finds his murky yet peaceful swamp overrun by fairytale creatures who he, being an ogre, finds terribly annoying. Shrek makes a deal with the corrupt and diminutive Lord Farquaad who is responsible for banishing the formerly happy-go-lucky fairytale characters to Shrek’s grey world. In an attempt to assume control back over his swamp, Shrek agrees to rescue a princess, Fiona, who has been trapped in a tower, so that Lord Farquaad may marry her and become king. Spoiler alert: Shrek and Fiona fall in love while on their wacky adventure.

Jason Ford, a teacher with the Rochester City School District, is back this year as the Club’s artistic director. Ford’s first production with Wheatland-Chili was 2018’s “In The Heights.” Ford became involved with the Wheatland-Chili program after the tragic passing of teacher and Drama Club mentor Jill Skivington Jackett in late 2017. Given the success of “In The Heights,” including a social media shout out from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, Ford was thrilled to return for his second production, and to carry out Jackett’s legacy.

“Yes, ‘In The Heights’ will always be very special to the Wheatland-Chili community. It is my goal as the new artistic director to keep building the dramatic arts program every year. There was a wonderful and strong foundation established and it is my hope to continue creating dramatic arts opportunities for all of the students,” Ford explained.

Ford and his faculty team of Cara Montrois (producer and club co-advisor) and Nicholas Roche (music and voice director) landed on Shrek because of the inherently fun, upbeat, and family-friendly storyline. “We had several choices but Shrek seemed to fit all the things we are looking for. We wanted to pick a show that could work best for our Drama Club. We also wanted a show with a big ensemble that could highlight all the talents of our students,” according to Ford.

With 40 students in the cast, 17 in the stage crew and three in the pit, the production has the high student involvement that Wheatland-Chili is known for given its small school size. And opportunities extend beyond cast, crew, and pit band roles. For example, students from Valerie Savage’s photography class are taking headshots of peers involved in the production while several sixth-grade students are serving as ushers since the performance has reserved seating (new this year).

“We have been so excited to welcome new students into the Drama Club fold. We are equally happy to have so many returning students as well. It’s incredibly rewarding as a director to see students grow as performers. Everyone has come a long way since we started rehearsals back in December. While I’m anxious to see their performances, I just know they are all going to be amazing,” said Ford.

The lead roles of Shrek and Princess Fiona are being played by seniors Colin Hogue and Madeline Jewell. Both talented students have had lead roles in previous productions: Hogue played Usnavi (“In The Heights”) and was Captain Hook in the school’s 2017 production of “Peter Pan” in which Jewell played Wendy.

When asked what he found most challenging about playing the role of Shrek, Hogue explained that it’s been some work incorporate the character’s famous brogue into dialogue… and the singing. “It’s the most singing I’ve ever had in a role. On top of that I have been focused on how to portray all of Shrek’s feelings and his range of emotions which are unexpected in an ogre,” said Hogue who will be studying math education at Niagara University starting in the fall.

Jewell added that for her, the most exciting thing about “Shrek The Musical” is its fantastical nature. “With fantasy creatures you can be as weird as possible which doesn’t really work in other types of productions. With this story however, every character has a big, unique personality that we each love being able to bring to life. As for playing Fiona, it’s been challenging but fun to embody a princess that is also a very strong woman.” Jewell will be studying psychology at SUNY Geneseo starting in the fall. She, like Hogue, is expecting to stay involved with the dramatic arts over her college career.

Each year the Wheatland-Chili Drama Club ensures there is a “wow factor” to its performance. In 2017, audiences gasped as Peter Pan and Wendy flew high above the stage; in 2018, the cast impressed with intense dancing and bi-lingual dialogue. So what can audience members expect this year? According to Ford, “I would say the most complex aspect of this year’s production is the make-up. In fact there is a make-up crew this year. We are also using several prosthetics along with special effects, huge set pieces, big costumes, specially designed wigs, and even puppets! We are all very lucky to have such a patient and hardworking production team focused on helping our actors truly embody their characters which are so well-known.”

Ford, Montrois, and Roche are collectively confident that “Shrek The Musical” has something for everyone. The performances are likely to sell-out so interested community members are encouraged to purchase their tickets ahead of time at https://www.showtix4u.com/events/16067. Performances are scheduled for 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 21st, and then 7:00 PM on Friday and Saturday (March 22nd and 23rd) in the Wheatland-Chili High School Auditorium.

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