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PRESS PHOTO BY DIANE BAKOS The cast of sing for America's production of PRESS PHOTO BY DIANE BAKOS The cast of sing for America's production of "Shrek The Musical," 7 p.m. July 11 - 13, 18-20; 2 p.m. July 14, 21, Broughal Middle School, 114 W. Morton St., Bethlehem.

'Shrek The Musical' makes Valley debut in Sing for America benefit for veterans

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 by DIANE BAKOS Special to The Press in Focus

"Shrek The Musical" makes its Lehigh Valley premier this summer.

It's the latest offering of Sing For America, the group composed of five siblings Taryn, Teara, Tasia, Jewel and Jorne Gilbert well-known for their elaborate stage productions and vocal performances in the Valley.

But what really makes Sing For America stand out from other area theater companies is that all of the profits go directly to the local chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc., to help military families.

Sing For America, founded by the Gilbert family of Easton, has raised more than $30,000 for families of active military since 2005 through performances. In 2011, the group began producing musicals, which have include "Cinderella," "White Christmas" and "The Wiz."

The Gilberts are sure that Shrek, the green ogre noted for his appetite for eyeball jelly on toast and for brushing his teeth with swamp slugs, should be a great draw.

The cast of more than 50 takes the stage in the Tony-winning "Shrek The Musical," 7 p.m. July 11 - 13, 18 - 20, and 2 p.m. July 14 and 21, Broughal Middle School, 114 W. Morton St, Bethlehem.

Licensing for the "Shrek" show has just been released for community theaters and Sing for America will be staging the first area production of the familiar tale.

"We were looking for a show to do this summer," says Taryn Gilbert. "This show became available for licensing in June, so we just applied for it for the heck of it. We never thought we'd get it, because we figured so many people were applying for it. Only a few days after, we got notice that we'd gotten the rights."

She calls the script "hilarious."

The musical, which ran on Broadway 2008 - '11, was nominated for nine Tonys. DreamWork's 2001 blockbuster movie "Shrek" is recreated on stage with the addition of humorous songs by the Tony-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. The cast recording of the show was nominated for a Grammy for best musical show album,

The movie "Shrek, based on William Steig's 1990 book "Shrek!, was a huge hit for DreamWorks and received the Oscar for best animated film in 2002.

The characters, including the cantankerous green ogre Shrek voiced by Mike Myers and Donkey voiced by Eddie Murphy, became a part of pop culture. The movie spawned four sequel movies, television shows and the musical.

The musical features the tunes "Big, Bright Beautiful World," "I Know It's Today," "Don't Let Me Go," "Freak Flag," "What's Up, Duloc?" and "I'm a Believer," the Neil Diamond-written song that was a hit for The Monkes and which is featured in the film.

The musical features in-jokes about the theater. Look for references to "Lion King," "Gypsy," "Les Miserables," "A Chorus Line" and "West Side Story."

Says Taryn, "We were afraid the script wouldn't be as good as the movie, but we're really happy with it. And the music is really good. The melodies are really good and the lyrics are excellent. They're funny, they're fun and they're really catchy."

The cast includes Taryn Gilbert as Dragon. Teara Gilbert, seen in last year's Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre's "Hairspray," plays feisty Princess Fiona.

Juan Padilla, who played the scarecrow in Sing for America's "The Wiz," is the evil Lord Farquaad.

Donkey is being played by Christopher Ryland, a Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts graduate who received a bachelors degree in theater-pre-medicine from Franklin & Marshall Colleg and a masters in theater from the University of Houston.

And Shrek? He's played by Freddy nominee and Liberty High School graduate Josh Simpson, who was in Liberty's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

Also featured are Jewel Gilbert as Pinocchio, Jorne Gilbert as a Musketeer and a knight, and Rhys Williams as Gingy.

The Gilberts insist on being all-inclusive in their casting, ignoring ethnicity. "Art is color blind," Taryn says. Age isn't an obstacle, either, with the cast ranging from eight to 51-years-old.

The Gilberts share production tasks, with Tasia directing this time and Teara handling most of the costume design. Costumes are handmade by cast members and parents, who also help with special challenges, like creating "fat suits" for Shrek and Donkey.

"But then for the fairy tale creatures there are a whole bunch of fairy tale creatures, some that aren't even in the movie we got to be creative with the fairies," smiles Taryn.

The family and volunteers build the sets, which include a forest and a tower that turns. The Gilberts say this will be their most challenging show to date.

Previous shows have been at The Charles A Brown Ice House, but the Gilberts are happy with their new location. Taryn says Bethlehem Area School District and Broughal officials have been very supportive with access to Broughal.

"Their auditorium is beautiful. It's a beautiful stage with all new equipment. It's a great space. We're happy with it."

And Taryn is optimistic that you'll be happy with "Shrek."

"It's one of those shows that's for everybody, for all ages, one of those shows that everybody can enjoy.

"And it's the Lehigh Valley premiere, and that makes it really special. We have such an incredibly talented cast that we're really proud of. You're gonna come there and leave happy."

Ticket information: 610-417-2189