Brian d'Arcy James, Broadway's 'Shrek' Star, Basks in the Green Light

In touch with his inner ogre: Brian d'Arcy James with Daniel Breaker and Sutton Foster in
In touch with his inner ogre: Brian d'Arcy James with Daniel Breaker and Sutton Foster in "Shrek the Musical." (By Joan Marcus Via Associated Press)
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By Kristen A. Lee
Associated Press
Sunday, December 21, 2008

NEW YORK -- Brian d'Arcy James makes for a very unlikely ogre. And no one was more surprised than the actor himself when he was cast as the green hero of "Shrek the Musical," which opened on Broadway last week.

The slim, 5-foot-9-inch actor who comes to the door of his dressing room at the Broadway Theatre is far from Shrek-size. He's friendly, thoughtful and almost soft-spoken, nearly the opposite of his stage persona.

The differences between James and his character make the actor's transformation into Shrek -- the endearingly gruff star of the 2001 animated movie and its sequels -- that much more dramatic.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this would come up in my radar," James says. "When my agent called, he said, 'They want to see you for "Shrek." And I said, 'Wow, okay, well what role?' And he said, 'For Shrek.' And I said, 'I know they're doing "Shrek the Musical." What part?' "

Brian d'Arcy James is not a household name like Mike Myers, who voiced the green ogre on-screen, but his long theater résumé has cemented his reputation as one of the most respected actors on the New York stage. His list of Broadway musical credits include a starring role in "The Apple Tree" opposite Kristin Chenoweth and a Tony-nominated performance in "Sweet Smell of Success."

Most recently, he won sterling reviews for his role as a hard-drinking Irishman in Conor McPherson's off-Broadway drama "Port Authority."

Princess Fiona is played by Sutton Foster, who has a distinguished Broadway résumé of her own, most recently starring as Inga in "Young Frankenstein." She counts herself among James's biggest fans.

"Every night, when he sings to me at the end of the show, I think, 'Brian D'Arcy James is singing to me!' " says Foster, who "squealed with delight" when director Jason Moore told her that James was up for the role.

"I think that what makes this ogre so charming is that Brian has found this kind of delicate balance between this grouch, who doesn't want any friends, and this core that is tender and vulnerable," says Daniel Breaker, who plays Donkey and recently starred in "Passing Strange."

James said his role in "Port Authority," which was still in performances when he began rehearsals for "Shrek," gave him some insight into Shrek.

"That character was so beautifully lost and inept and a bull in a china shop," James says of his "Port Authority" role. He even wore a small "fat pad" for the part, in a taste of what awaited him in "Shrek."

The padded white suit that lends the actor Shrek's protruding gut, broad shoulders and stocky legs hangs in a corner of his dressing room. The 40-year-old shows off pieces of his costume with almost boyish enthusiasm -- holding up Shrek's heavy pants, rustic tunic and tattered, ill-fitting vest.

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