Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire Are Reimagining Shrek for a New Generation | Playbill

National Tour News Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire Are Reimagining Shrek for a New Generation

16 years after the show premiered on Broadway, the Tony-winning pair are making some revisions to their beloved musical.

David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori Heather Gershonowitz

Making a musical is rarely ever a clean experience. The blood, sweat, and tears that go into producing a piece of excellence are immense. Even once the show is, for the most part, written, rehearsals rewrites and refinements continue to kick up the dust until finally, someone is forced to call for a freeze. For many artists, the mental part of the refining process is never really done. Ask anyone to reflect back on their previous work, and there are likely a few tweaks they would choose to implement, but they simply ran out of time.

Now, Tony winners Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire have found the time, revising their Shrek the Musical for a new tour, set to embark across the United States beginning February 24.

"We have talked a lot over the years about revisiting Shrek," shares Tesori from a far-flung cottage wherein she isolates herself to write. "We just felt like there was a leaner version of it. There was a more economical version of it... there was a version that was more us, honestly."

The pair have done quite a bit of growing in the 16 years since Shrek first premiered on Broadway in 2008. Initially flung together in an "artistic arranged marriage" for the project, the pair found a vividly deep kinship. That came in handy inside of the highly pressurized tornado that was the initial Broadway outing of DreamWorks Animation.

"It was such a joyful experience, and we have such great memories of it," Lindsay-Abaire shares, smiling knowingly at Tesori as they reflect on the original 2008 production. "It was also really hard and awful. And we have such great memories of that too. We were always the two in the back row laughing our butts off or crying into each other's shoulders because it was so hard. It's what brought us together as people, but also as artists and collaborators."

As the pair's newest collaboration, Kimberly Akimbo, came to Broadway in 2022 (eventually winning them both a Tony Award), the two found themselves looking back on Shrek with the fondness of a parent watching their child grow. Running for more than 400 performances on Broadway initially, a streamable pro-shot and countless regional productions have carried the show into theatrical legend, standing as one of the most-produced musicals in the United States. 

Along the way, the pair have made adjustments, both major and minor. Multiple versions of Shrek are currently available to license, including an hour-long variation called Shrek Jr, and a TYA version that pared down the production to its essentials for school programs. As each variation was concocted, both Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire were given the opportunity to continue getting down in the dirt with the original material.

"It's amazing what happened when there weren't 20 people giving us notes!" Lindsay-Abaire laughs. "It was just ours, for as long as it could be just ours." 

This new, full-length tour, allows the pair to present "a version that's close to what we fell in love with when we said yes to the material in the first place."

Inspired by the oral storytelling tradition of classic fairytales, the tour leans less on spectacular prosthetics and makeup design, and more on the ingenuity of the performers themselves. 

"There is a framing device now, that they're a group of people who have gathered together to present the story of Shrek," describes Lindsay-Abaire. "And someone puts on a costume and suddenly, they're one of the three little pigs. And somebody else puts on a nose, and they're the wolf, and so on. But you can still see the human underneath."

To the playwright, this creative choice gets back at the heart of not just Shrek, but fairy tales themselves. "Hans Christian Andersen would go to people's parlors and read them out loud!" Lindsay-Abaire proclaims. "He would perform them just on the fly, with cut out little shapes to illustrate his stories."

Tesori jumps in: "Maybe we should go on our own tour. We go into people's living rooms, and we do it ourselves." The duo laughs.

Brian d'Arcy James, Daniel Breaker and Sutton Foster in Shrek on Broadway

"I saw a production done by five year olds that I was so enamored with," Tesori confesses, clutching her beloved dog. "and Danny [Mefford, the tour's director] has taken inspiration from that kind of story theatre." Tesori's composition now has a number of new instruments woven into the orchestration, including percussion frogs to create the soundscape of the swamp. "This version is coming from the human beings themselves, as opposed to lots of latex and covering the human to make the fairytale."

Aside from the less artificial directorial choices, the production itself is streamlined, with both Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori revisiting their own work to refine away any excess bloat that didn't serve the core of the story. Overall, the new tour version is slightly shorter than the original.

No need to worry though, Shrek fans: favorite songs like "I Know It's Today" and "Who I'd Be" have survived in their entirety. And the recording of the original Broadway production isn't going anywhere.

"At this point, people know Shrek," Tesori laughs. "There is a whole generation that has done it at their school, and they really know that original version. We were inspired to make this lighter, simpler, charming version for the next generation, so they get to be the storytellers." 

The parallel between Shrek finding his own inner life throughout the show, and the show now blossoming with a new interiority, is not lost on either of them.

"At the root of every version, it's a story about someone who was told that he's one thing based on his outward appearances, but on the inside, he is something else entirely," Lindsay-Abaire states. "And so, by the end of the show, this ogre who's been told his whole life 'you're a monster, you won't find love or friendship,' by the end of the story he realizes, 'Oh, I can be a hero. And I can find friendship and love. And I'm deserving of that.'"

As the duo look forward to the tours embarkment, they can't help but swell with pride.

"I can count the people that have changed my career and the way that I look at art, on one hand," Tesori states, her voice wavering as she holds back tears. "If Shrek hadn't brought me David... this show is inextricably tied to him, and the experiences we have had together. The fact is, it's really hard to take something so well known and beloved, and to then turn around and make it a musical. It's like making Coca Cola the Musical. When you're adapting a movie, you really have to be friends all the way through, and just do the best you can, because it's a really hard feat that you're doing. Shrek lives right in my heart because of that."

"I can only second that, obviously," Lindsay-Abaire bows his head thoughtfully. "Gaining Jeanine has been the best part of it. And she has changed my life. If we hadn't experienced some of the hardest stuff in Shrek, then we wouldn't have the bond we do now. It was all worth it."

To learn more about the Shrek tour and to buy tickets, click here.

Shrek: The Musical Production Photos

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