The message of "Shrek" has a lot to do with looking past appearances to see a pure heart filled with courage, compassion and joy.
How appropriate for the 34th season of the Stewartstown Summer Theatre, an outreach of Stewartstown United Methodist Church.
"When people come for the first time and they've never seen one of our shows, it's the basement of a church, it's kids on stage, they're gonna come with preconceived notions of what they're gonna get and they're gonna get something completely different," says Pastor Dave McDowell, who coordinates the massive effort each year. "I think it's a tremendous testament of what happens when you have so many people come together and give their best."
The production meetings for the July show started back in January. "Shrek: The Musical" has a 40-person production staff, a 20-person support staff and an 80-member cast. Together, they keep everything on track for the theater's first staging of the Broadway musical based on the DreamWorks animated movie. The musical only became available for community theater use this year.
"We like to do shows that are wholesome and for the entire family, and 'Shrek' certainly fits that bill," McDowell says. "The fact that it's new made it very exciting for the kids and the community and a challenge for us."
The challenge comes in deciding on sets, costuming, makeup and other areas of production and then creating all of the elements in time for the July 31 opening.
"Anytime we do a fantasy, it stretches us in all levels," McDowell says. "Our costumer has one person solely in charge of administration of costumes just to keep everything straight."
Beyond the stage: Putting on the show is only part of the journey for the cast members. As a spiritual outreach program, the summer theater strives to help the youthful performers -- ages 12 to 19 -- make lasting connections, work in a cooperative atmosphere and hone the virtues in their hearts.
The program begins with "young people who at the beginning of the summer are total strangers, but all of a sudden they spend an intense 10-week period, so they're best friends by the end of the summer," McDowell says. "That's really important because it helps them grow as people and as artists."
The actors come from several school districts in York and neighboring counties, and each year brings new faces.
"I think part of the success has been that we are always willing to evolve," McDowell says. "We're not set that this year we do it this way because we did it that way the last five years."
Big effort: For "Shrek," the theater had to solve problems like fitting a dragon on stage and making Pinocchio's nose grow. The lead roles, too, demand special effort and comedic timing. After all, it's not often that an ogre and a donkey are the main characters. The goal is to give audiences the chance to experience the lighthearted comedy and family-friendly message of "Shrek" in person rather than on a screen.
"The script and the score are just as witty in the musical as the movie is. ... It speaks to kids on their level and adults on their level," McDowell says. "And I think they'll be wowed by all the special effects that are coming."
The comedy and the excitement sit side by side with a meaningful story the theater program is eager to deliver.
"There are some extremely powerful and dramatic moments," McDowell says. "It's really a show that has just about everything in it."
See the show
"Shrek: The Musical" opens Wednesday, July 31, at Stewartstown United Methodist Church, 26 S. Main St., Stewartstown.
Evening performances start at 7 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1-3 and 6-10. Matinees start at 2 p.m. Aug. 3, 4 and 10.
The matinees offer optional dessert bars before the show, and the Friday and Saturday evening performances have a dinner option starting at 5:45 p.m. There is an additional cost for dessert and dinner.
Show-only tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12. Show and dessert tickets are $16 for adults and $13 for children ages 3 to 12; show and dinner tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors ages 60 and older, and $15 for children ages 3 to 12.
For more information or to order tickets, visit www.stewartstownumc.org/summertheatre or call (443) 682-4949.
-- Reach Mel Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.