By Paul Lane
Niagara Gazette — Most aspiring actors would likely spend countless hours on their knees pleading for a quality role.
One actor coming to town this week, however, will continue doing so even while bringing one of modern animation’s most notorious villains to life on stage.
Christian Marriner will portray Lord Farquaad in the touring production of “Shrek the Musical” that’s staging shows tonight and Friday at the University at Buffalo. As the diminutive dictator of the mythical kingdom of Dulac, Marriner has to spend the bulk of the show on his knees controlling the puppet legs of the runt ruler.
Farquaad and the rest of the characters came to fame in the movie “Shrek,” the 2001 Dreamworks film about a misunderstood ogre and a band of misguided fairy tale creatures that was based on a book of the same name by William Steig. The film spawned three sequels, which grossed a combined $3 billion worldwide.
“Shrek is your friend next door. He’s your average Joe, but he gets put into situations that aren’t normal,” Marriner said when asked what makes the series so popular. “There are relatable situations such as starting to see things half empty and not half full. You can spend time thinking about negative things, but you’re not going to get anywhere.”
The “Shrek” franchise got to Broadway in 2008, where it enjoyed a 441-show run and claimed one Tony Award, for best costume design. Its success led to a national tour in 2010, which included a stop at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. This tour is now the third U.S. tour for “Shrek” and opened on October in Alaska.
The musical carries over the characters and much of the plot from the first movie, but there’s a lot more added in to help develop the backstory, Marriner said. Farquaad, for example, has a larger role than in the film, with flashbacks showing his childhood and what led to his backlash against fairy tale creatures, whom he banished to Shrek’s swamp outside the kingdom.
“He’s a misunderstood man who had a hard time growing up,” Marriner said. “He got fed up with being picked on and found a way to get back at people who aren’t normal. He gets everyone to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ and creates a perfect kingdom.”
Marriner joined “Shrek” last summer soon after finishing up on a touring production of “South Pacific,” which brought the actor to Buffalo for a week’s worth of shows at Shea’s last spring. He tried out for “Beauty and the Beast” but got coerced into trying out for Farquaad, a role he landed despite a less-than-stellar audition.
The role presents two challenges, he said: spending the entire show on your knees and trying to shine beyond the superb job John Lithgow did in voicing Farquaad in the first film.
“I don’t know if I can ever make Farquaad better, but I can try to keep to the originality they had in the film,” he said. “After those first rehearsals, my body was hurting in spots I never hurt before ... but I love hearing laughter. Once you’re in the role, you don’t care about your knees hurting, your back hurting and your body making popping noises that aren’t natural.”
The cast is also allowed to customize certain parts of the show, Marriner said. Whether adding local references or mixing in flavors of the moment such as “Gangham Style,” actors ensure no two performances are completely alike.IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Shrek the Musical" • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday • WHERE: Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo North Campus, Amherst • MORE INFO: Call 645-2787 or visit ubcfa.org