More than 80 young people ages 8 to 18 will bring to life the beloved story “Shrek The Musical” in Fredericksburg’s Christian Youth Theatre production, running this weekend and next at Chancellor High School.

“It’s just a delightful show,” said director Todd Pristas. “One thing I like so much is that not all happy endings have to be conventional—that’s kind of what this story is all about.”

Shrek’s peaceful swamp is raided by a gang of homeless fairy-tale characters, complaining they’ve been evicted by the “vertically challenged” Lord Farquaad. Shrek agrees to help them get their homes back (in order to get his own home back), but ends up agreeing to rescue Princess Fiona in exchange. As he travels with Fiona back to Farquaad, a unique friendship grows between Shrek and the princess, and all kinds of unexpected hilarity result.

Originally a children’s book published in 1990 by author William Steig, “Shrek” is best known by the award-winning DreamWorks computer-animated film released in 2001, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy.

Seven years later the story was developed into a Broadway musical, with songs composed by Jeanine Tesori (of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” fame) and a book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay–Abaire. The show won eight Tony Award nominations and toured extensively after performing on Broadway more than a year.

“The music is beautiful, and our music director has done a tremendous job helping the students think about the messages and embrace the music,” Pristas said. “People approach ‘Shrek’ thinking it will be all fart jokes, but the music really elevates it.”

This is the third CYT production Pristas has been involved with, which he does in addition to his full-time work as a drama instructor at Fredericksburg Academy. After holding auditions in April, rehearsals have occurred every Friday and Saturday for the last nine weeks.

The parents of the young thespians volunteer most of the support work, sewing costumes, building sets, finding props and much more.

“Everyone tries to help out wherever they can,” said technical coordinator Susan George, explaining that among her many responsibilities she arranges Crock-Pots of healthy food to be provided on rehearsal evenings. “It’s an incredible teamwork effort.”

George’s daughter, Elizabeth, plays the youngest Fiona, singing a solo in “I Know It’s Today,” as we are introduced to her character.

“[Fiona]’s just so hopeful that one day she’ll get her prince,” Elizabeth said. “I really feel like she’s me.”

Elizabeth added that it wasn’t hard to learn the music because she and her sister used to watch a video of the Broadway musical, so she came into the production knowing the song by heart.

“It’s all really fun and I just love the singing and all the blocking and everything,” she said. The 8-year-old Ferry Farm student also plays Goldilocks and dances with the chorus in other scenes.

George, who revealed Elizabeth has been participating in productions since age 3, said she really values her family’s involvement with CYT.

“I’ve noticed it helps with reading, gives children confidence, helps them understand what it is to be part of a team, with responsibilities—there are so many great lessons,” George said. “The theater is like a metaphor for life.”

Pristas agrees. “God doesn’t see imperfections, He sees straight through to our hearts,” he said. “That’s one of the main messages of the play—Shrek and Fiona are beautiful despite the appearance they may present.”

Pristas said he hopes students will recognize this and other valuable life lessons conveyed through the production.

“True love is friendship and acceptance. Friends forgive one another,” he said. “I hope at CYT these kids understand this is a great place to find acceptance and be yourself.”

Emily Jennings is a Stafford-based freelance writer.

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