Summer of ‘Shrek’

“The Artist,” winner of the Oscar for 2011’s best picture, concludes with a wonderful scene featuring its two primary stars tap-dancing up a proverbial storm. The duo’s steps appear flawless, and one wouldn’t know that there were reportedly five months of tap-dancing lessons prior the filming of this cinematic grand finale.

Knowing that, I guess there’s some hope for me and my two left feet.

Two years after returning to the stage for the first time since 1997 for the Worthington production of “Beauty and the Beast,” I have the pleasure of appearing in another community theater production. “Shrek the Musical,” featuring a cast of more than 50 people, will be performed Aug. 1-4 at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, and though there’s a long, long way to go in preparing for opening night, I’m confident that we’re going to put on one crowd-pleaser of a play.

Crowd-pleasing, however, may not be the best manner in which to describe the relationship between my body and choreography. A better word. perhaps, might be schadenfreude, which in German is “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.”

Last week, inside the cozy confines of Kay Williams Prunty’s Dance Academy studio, most of the members of the “Shrek” chorus — comprised of a large cast of characters collectively known as the fairy tale creatures — worked on learning Kay’s choreography to “Story of My Life,” a big number performed in the earlier portion of the show. I arrived a bit late on the first night — Monday — after assisting at Zachary’s tee-ball practice, so I was already behind. Talk about not doing myself any favors.

In no time, it seemed as if everyone around me was doing all kinds of steps and spins while I just stood still in a dumbfounded state of utter confusion. Then I heard some kind of an instruction about doing a “shanay,” and the downhill slide continued (I typically am not fluent in ballet). Though I quickly learned that the word basically means a turn, it was more or less set in my mind that if I didn’t know for sure to spell it, it was going to be dang hard to do.

Fortunately, my daughter Grace understands this language well, and is in “Shrek” with me. Watching her between my somewhat spastic maneuvering, I saw … well, her name. She moved as gracefully as I did hesitantly. It was cool. And, I also knew who my own private tutor would be.

Immediately after the first night of dance rehearsal wrapped up, I approached Grace and asked if she had fun. (Of course she did. It was a night of dance.) Then, I asked for her help. She laughed and said something like, “Yes, if you teach me how to play guitar.” A deal was struck.

When I was in “Beauty,” I had the honor of having what I’d call a small leading role. I had some lines and a song I performed both solo and as a part of a duet. In this show, any lines I have in the roles of Papa Shrek and Papa Bear are extremely minimal, but the tradeoff is that I get to go to regular rehearsals with a fellow chorus member/fairy tale creature who happens to be my daughter. It’s a terrific opportunity for daddy/daughter bonding time — and the fact that Grace has been cast as her favorite princess, Snow White, only adds to the wonder of it all.

And, when it comes to wonder, just you wait until you see my dancing come showtime. A lot of practice, and good instruction, just might make a miracle.

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