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Once Upon a Time in New Orleans …

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Eric Peterson as the lovable green ogre takes audiences to the far-away land of ‘Shrek the Musical’

This June, “Shrek The Musical” is coming to New Orleans, as part of the Broadway Across America series. The tour launched in Chicago in July of last year and is popular with audiences and critics alike.

Among those receiving accolades is Eric Petersen in the title role. Though he’s worked steadily since graduating from college in 2003, “Shrek” is his biggest role yet. He’s also at an exciting point in his personal life; his wife, actress Lisa Morabito, gave birth to their first child, Sophie, the night of the show’s third preview.

Recently I talked to the genial actor about the show, touring and his family.

Beth Herstein: Your career has gotten off to a quick start.

Eric Petersen: I’m very happy with my career so far. (After college) I did summer stock at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan. I met an actress there, Lisa Morabito, who is now my wife. My original plan was to move to Los Angeles . . . but she was moving to New York (and) I went there as well. I did a lot of little things, right off the bat, like children’s theater tours, bit parts on TV and off off Broadway. My big break came when I played Barfee in the first national tour of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” I eventually booked “Shrek” on Broadway, which was spectacular. I was a “Shrek” understudy and in the ensemble, and when the national tour came up I got the role of “Shrek.” That brings us to today.

BH: I read that prior to the national tour, the show was revised a bit.

Eric: What’s really exciting about “Shrek” is that David Lindsay Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeannine Tesori (music), and our directors, Rob Ashford and Jason Moore, came back before the national tour started. They did rewrites, cutting songs and jokes that didn’t work, adding stuff that was more current. It still is the show that was on Broadway, but it’s tighter, and more current.

BH: So even though you didn’t originate the role, you’re creating it for the national tour.

Eric: Definitely. The directors had that attitude as well. They said, “You’re unique people, bring yourselves to the roles.”

BH: I read that you re-watched the movies and read the Shrek books to prepare for the part.

Eric: My attitude has always been, if there is source material out there to dig into, why not do it. I wanted to be as familiar as I could with the world of Shrek. What does he sound like? What does he think like? What is his history? Once you have that inside of you, you can go freely into the world that’s been created.

BH: Your wife had your first child when you’d just started previews. How has that impacted your perspective?

Eric: It has in so many ways. It makes me more eager for the show to be successful (and for me) to have a successful career because now I have a family. At the same time it makes me think, “It’s just singing and dancing on the stage.” In the end what’s the most important thing for me now are my wife and my child.

Also, I’ve always loved kids, but (even more than before) I try to make eye contact with as many of them as I can during the show; and outside the theater, I try to look each kid in the eye and give them the feeling, “Whoah! Shrek looked at me! He talked to me!” I’m that much more (aware of) how exciting that can be for a kid.

BH: Has your daughter seen you in your costume?

Eric: We first brought her to the theater about two weeks after she was born, so she is very comfortable around me when I’m in my Shrek costume. But I couldn’t tell if she knew it was me or thought it was Uncle Shrek. Then, around a week ago, when I was in costume one of the makeup artists taught her how to poke me in the nose, to distract her (so she wouldn’t tug my face and ruin my makeup). The next day, when I picked her up from the crib, she looked me right in the eyes and poked me in the nose. So I think she knows it’s me in the costume.

BH: What’s it like touring with your family?

Eric: It is challenging but it’s fun. It takes 2 hours to put on my makeup and wardrobe and 45 minutes to take it off, and there are lots of press interviews. So I relish the opportunity to play this part and bring the show around the country, but the time constraints are the biggest challenge. The traveling has not been that bad. Our daughter’s so adaptable. We drive, so we can go on our own schedule and have all the things with us that she needs and wants. If we’re going to uproot her, the least we can do is bring a good amount of toys and a nice travel crib.

BH: Any closing thoughts?

Eric: Sometimes when people see “Shrek” is coming they think, “That’s probably a great show for little kids.” And it is a great show for kids – they go crazy for it. But there is so much adult humor in this show. It works in the same way the movies did, in that they poked fun at popular culture and other movies. We poke fun at pop culture and other musicals. It really is a family friendly show that’s good for kids and adults as well.