Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pipe cleaner ears?

Michael Riedel ended today's column by stating: "Let's hope that when they do find a Shrek, they don't put him in a green foam-rubber suit." Which leads me to the question--what do we want Shrek to look like? Ideally?

I don't know how many of you remember the Seussical costume debacle... During the press "sneak-peak" of the show pre-Boston, the team showed off drawings of Catherine Zuber's over-the-top costumes. She was creating some kind of fantastical world with giant costumes. Then the actors put the costumes on and, well, no one liked this ridiculous world... I think one of the actors said to me at the time something like "I feel like I'm a stuffed animal on parade." That sounds good to me, but, it wasn't meant in a good way. A few days into previews in Boston, word was out that Zuber was canned and William Ivey Long was in. (There was then an incident when Long told the cast to go out and buy their own yellow suits instead of wearing Zuber's old costumes.")

And so, from this little drama, I suppose we can say that big foam costumes are indeed bad in the eyes of many. But what is good? How do you bring a cartoon to life? The non-literal Little Mermaid costumes have been attacked. So can you only go the way of The Lion King? Do we think Shrek should look like The Grinch except with ogre ears?

I mean--this is one of the natural difficulties inherent in these things.... And how can you overcome it? I honestly don't know. There is something to be said for reinvention, but clearly that has recently gone awry... There is also something to be said for wanting the figure onstage to look exactly like the image in your heard, but, then again, a giant foam ogre would look cheap and cheesy. Can there ever be a perfect medium? The Lion King has been praised for its look, but it is questionable whether that model will work time and time again.

Now, while many people think the score and the book are the most important parts of a musical (as they should), in the cartoon-to-stage projects, I think the costumes might be the most important thing to get right. You go too literal and you'll be berated. Too experimental and children will cry. Screw up the look and your book and lyrics won't matter much...

So, I look forward to seeing what they'll come up with at the end. As we know from Seussical, there is no way to tell now what will be up on that stage come fall.


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