‘Shrek’ brings swamp to stage

Making music is a distinctly human endeavor. It is a science as much as it as an art form. Music notes march across the staff lines in mathematical precision. The principles of physics account for how sound is made and enhanced by instruments. Basic biology aids a singer to effectively use the human voice to project beautiful sounds that we recognize as music. And thanks to all those sciences, for sure, but really – music is just plain magic.

Music has the power to unite us, inspire us, and the language is universal. It is a pity that we don’t sing out as an everyday practice. OK, so some of you do. I hear you when I am out walking about. But mostly it’s the iPod plugged in, obstructing the sounds around you and discouraging you to sing out using your own personal instrument. I’m telling you, it’s OK to sing out loud and ditch your electronic device. No batteries required. And you don’t have to have the skills of an opera singer to participate in this movement. Bring back folk music and sing in the streets.

Of course, it is a real treat to listen to the classically-trained deliver the ultimate in vocal achievement: opera. Somehow, the idea of opera scares us. Again, I have to say – really? Maybe you just haven’t given it a chance.

So here is an event for you: Vancouver Opera presents an evening of opera excerpts from the world’s most popular masterpieces at Surrey Arts Centre on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Be seduced by Carmen, entertained by The Barber of Seville. The tunes will be familiar, even if the words are not. A quartet of talented performers will take you on a journey full of beautiful sounds and high-flying acrobatics of superb opera singing. This is an evening that will appeal to the whole family, and tickets are just under $23 for adults and about $12 for children. As an extra incentive, there will be free giveaways for everyone who attends. Phone the arts centre box office at 604-501-5566.

Just think, if opera hadn’t been so popular way back when, we would not today enjoy the offerings of musical theatre. The big Broadway type of musical evolved from the stylings of grand opera. The “triple threat” demanded from the performers (sing, dance and act) is sort of our modern opera. Opera fans, I did say sort of, so don’t go all off-key on me. The trend in musicals today seems to be to transform a movie into a musical, like Legally Blonde and, now, Shrek.

Successful on Broadway and in London’s West End, Shrek, The Musical has been a rousing success in the professional world, and now we have it opening in Burnaby. Surrey’s Chad Matchette has been involved with making musicals locally for as long as I can remember. As a fan of the movie, producer and director Matchette couldn’t wait to bring the show to the stage. “I had seen the show in London and then again in the States, and fell in love with it,” he said. “I then kept a close eye on the rights, and when it became available, we jumped on it.”

Matchette has now formed his own company, Align Entertainment, with a few of his friends who share his vision and experience in musical theatre. Ranae Miller (Princess Fiona) loves the way Shrek breaks the classic fairy tale rules, and Will Hopkins put his skill of emulating the Shrek voice to good use. He plays the big green ogre. It’s not easy being green. Will also has the challenge of not melting out of his makeup.

Align Entertainment’s production of Shrek, the Musical has a cast of 34 adult actors and 34 children, massive sets and a full orchestra – quite the undertaking. Making an animated film into a musical using real people is a challenge, but Matchette is confident Shrek fans will love this production. “We’d love to see you at the swamp,” he said.

Shrek, The Musical runs from Feb. 7 to 22 at Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby. Tickets start at $25 (plus fees) and can be purchased through Ticketmaster. This is a reasonable price considering the mega costs involved. Professional touring companies bringing Broadway musicals our way have tickets prices hovering around $200. That evening of opera, or singing from a swamp, is looking mighty attractive from this perspective.