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3-D Theatricals’ T.J. Dawson says Shrek is the role of a lifetime

THE CAST of Shrek with T.J. Dawson playing the lovable ogre along with Jeanette Dawson as Fiona, Daniel Dawson as Lord Farquaad and Cornelius Jones Jr. as Donkey.

 

By Alan Richmond

T.J. Dawson has been waiting his whole life for a role like Shrek.

The executive producer and founding director for 3-D Theatricals, Dawson takes the stage as the titular green ogre for the company’s final show for their 10th anniversary season. Shrek The Musical plays August 9-25 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, located in Cerritos, Ca.

“I had a lot of close calls,” T.J., 38, says of his journeyman acting career before co-founding Southern California’s critically acclaimed theatre company. “I’m so specific. Shrek The Musical had not been written yet, and there wasn’t a lot for people of my type,” the statuesque Huntington Beach native recalls. “I was either too old, not old enough. Too tall, or not tall enough. Too fat, not fat enough. Whatever it was. I just wasn’t ‘enough.’”

Wanting to play a role in an industry he loved, he put performing on hold, and turned his attention to directing and producing, launching 3-D in 2009 with his wife, Jeanette Dawson, and fellow theatre-loving siblings, Gretchen Dawson and Daniel Dawson. Gretchen, Daniel, and the married couple constitute the three ‘D’s of the company’s name.

“I developed such love and passion for directing because there’s a piece of you in every little part of the show – every performance, every cue, the whole overall aesthetic of the show is the director’s responsibility. So I stopped performing because I got so involved with that part of the business. But when Shrek The Musical  was written, it was right when 3-D started and I was like, ‘If there was ever a part written for me, it’s this part.’ There’s always a show for dancers and leading men and women, but not always for character actors. And oh my God, this is my show.”

Six years ago, 3-D staged the Southern California regional premiere for Shrek The Musical, which is when T.J. first got to play the role. A fan of the show’s “funny, clever and brilliantly written” material, he found himself connecting with the show on a more profound level the further he delved into it.

“When I started to get into rehearsals, I realized how deeply I connected with Shrek. it quickly became one of my favorite shows because it truly has a powerful and beautiful message of self-acceptance, accepting others and embracing your differences and the differences of others. It connected into my DNA in a way I was not expecting it to.”

When the Cerritos Center asked the company for a return engagement for the production, T.J. was only too glad to revisit the character.

He is also thrilled to star opposite several family members in the production. His seven-year-old son Jude plays Young Shrek. (“He’s playing the young me!” the proud father says, delightedly).

Brother Daniel plays the scene-stealing role of Lord Farquaad, a villain of grand proportions and diminutive stature. And in a rare opportunity, Dawson gets to fall in love with wife Jeanette every night as she takes on the role of Fiona, a princess with a secret.

“My wife and I have never gotten to play opposite each other because we don’t type into roles that would play opposite each other,” T.J. explains, “so this is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity for us. What’s kind of crazy is it really is our story.”

The pair will even celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary on August 8 in the final dress rehearsal for Shrek The Musical, with performances beginning the following evening, August 9, and opening night on August 10.

“It’s like we get to renew our wedding vows every night on stage and in front of everybody.”

Shrek The Musical originally premiered in 2008 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, where it was nominated for eight Tony Awards, with Tim Hatley winning for Best Costume Design of a Musical. 3-D’s production will feature Hatley’s original outlandish and hilarious designs, along with a lavish physical production which will be the largest staging of the material since Broadway.

“It’s going to be a feast for the eyes,” T.J. exclaims.

If there’s any downside to playing the onerous ogre, it’s the time-consuming process of getting in and out of make-up and wardrobe. It takes three hours to prepare T.J.’s make-up and one hour to remove it after the performance. Combined with two and half hours on stage in a 50-pound costume, it’s a grueling role for the performer.

“It’s a challenge, because that costume sometimes ends up winning at the end of the night,” he says. “But once you put that makeup on and everything, you truly get lost in it. It’s really, truly amazing how transformative it is.”

He does look forward to greeting children in costume in the lobby after matinée performances.

Shrek The Musical may be the first show for many a Southern California youngster. T.J. himself remembers catching the theatre bug when his parents took him to see Cathy Rigby in Peter Panat the Pantages Theatre. He estimates he was six years old.

“It made such an impact on me,” he says. “That’s when I became addicted to live theatre.”

He hopes Shrek The Musical will provide young audiences with the same type of experience that so transformed him.

“There’s nothing more magical than seeing your first show, and there’s going to be so many young people out there seeing their first show,” T.J. says. “That’s an honor. I think it’s something you can’t really put into words. It’s really very special.”

Visit www.3DTheatricals.org for ticket information and performance details.

 

Directed and choreographed by David F.M. Vaughn, Shrek The Musicalfeatures music by Tony Award-winner Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. Based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek The Musicalwas originally produced on Broadway by DreamWorks Theatricals and Neal Street Productions. The original Broadway production was directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford.

 

 

 

 

 

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