Unless you're written by Stephen Sondheim, it's rare for a Broadway show to be taped, with its original cast, for home-video release. But Shrek the Musical, like Passing Strange, Memphis, and Rent before it, is helping to buck that trend. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and DreamWorks have released David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's stage adaptation of the beloved film Shrek on Blu-Ray and DVD in gorgeous high-definition.
TheaterMania asked Tony nominees Brian d'Arcy James (Shrek), Daniel Breaker (Donkey), and Christopher Sieber (Lord Farquaad) to recall their experiences shooting the musical for the small screen. In not entirely unexpected fashion for a session that took place nearly three years ago, their memories don't always match up. But these charming gents were able to shed insight into the six- or twenty-camera, one- or three-day process, anyway.
What do you remember about the shoot?
Brian d'Arcy James: We took one night off where they shut down the show and put in six cameras. That was such an extremely challenging and rewarding experience; it required so much.
Daniel Breaker: We did it on our day off, from what I remember. We put on a live show with twenty cameras.
Christopher Sieber: We spent three days filming the show without an audience, and then we went back and did live performances.
Was there anything specific that made it feel like shooting a real movie vs. the taping of a live stage production?
Daniel Breaker: At first, I thought they were just going to film it, much like going into the archives at the Performing Arts Library. When I walked up to the theater, I realized we were making a movie. The orchestra was completely empty — that's where the cameras were. We had some people in the balcony and mezzanine watching the show.
Christopher Sieber: DreamWorks treated it like a real film shoot. We had the craft services; they made sure everybody was comfortable before they proceeded. They took three days and removed seats from the gigantic Broadway Theatre. They brought in cranes and cameras on railroad tracks and everything.
How does it feel to see your work in Shrek the Musical preserved for posterity?
Brian d'Arcy James: I'm all for it, particularly with Shrek. My daughter was in second grade at the time. I was [playing] a monster. She wasn't very interested in seeing the show — mostly because of the makeup and seeing her dad in a different way. It's great because she regrets that and now she can see it.
Daniel Breaker: My son was only a few weeks old before I started rehearsals for the Broadway show and now, two days ago, we all watched it. He was thrilled, but he was also concerned — he wanted to make sure I wasn't actually being eaten by a dragon or falling into real lava. I had to assure him I was totally fine. I was like "Look, I'm here, man. I have all my limbs and there are no dragons in the house." [laughs]
Christopher Sieber: The worst part of being in a beautiful hit Broadway show is that you never get to see it. I finally got to see the show with the original cast…I had tears in my eyes and was laughing my head off, while watching my friends be amazing. It's like watching a Broadway musical live.
What's the most exciting part of this DVD release?
Brian d'Arcy James: To be able to see it is somehow going to prove to me that I did it. I know I did it, but I can't quite believe it. So this will be proof.
Daniel Breaker: It feels like the next phase of a journey. This animated movie happened, it was highly successful, then we moved on to a new version of it — a live musical — and it tours around, and now we come back around to the small screen with the DVD. It's a thrill to watch that journey. I think that's the way a lot of musicals are going.
Christopher Sieber: It's unlike any other Broadway musical I've ever seen filmed. Sometimes, when somebody tries to record theater on a video camera, it doesn't feel the same [as seeing it live]… you actually feel like you're a part of it, which is so rare when you watch a Broadway musical that's been filmed. It's a part of history now.
Click here to purchase Shrek the Musical on DVD.