Known as the hilariously short-statured antagonist of the critically acclaimed children’s’ film Shrek, Lord Farquaad is a bite-sized bundle of fun for any performer to play.
Shrek was adapted into a musical by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change, Fun Home, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), and has been well received internationally both on the professional and amateur stage.
The tiny tyrant will be played by Todd McKenney in the upcoming Australian tour of Shrek The Musical. With theatrical credits including P.T. Barnum (Barnum), Frank-N-Furter (The Rocky Horror Show), Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Anything Goes), Rooster (Annie) and Peter Allen (The Boy From Oz), Todd is no stranger to the stage. But his upcoming role is a little… different than the others.
What are you most looking forward to about Farquaad?
Just… well, he’s evil [laughs]. The evil characters always have the most fun. The whole concept of him being on his knees and pretending to be a tall guy, you know, it’s funny before you even start it. Even his name is funny. So I read it and watched it online, and just jumped at it actually.
The character, being so short, requires you to be on your knees for the entire show – what sort of preparation are you doing for this?
Well I had a hip replacement a few months ago, so my whole rehab has been about getting my hip moving and being able to get down and up really quickly. My trainer and physio are all about getting on my knees, basically. I want to get everything really strong before we start. We haven’t started rehearsals yet but I’m doing an hour on my knees every day [laughs]. I’m not even joking, I walked around my lounge room for an hour on my knees, went to make a cup of coffee in the kitchen on my knees. I want it to be second nature.
Are you excited to be joining Ben Mingay, Lucy Durack, and Marcia Hines in the lead cast?
I’ve never worked with any of them, but I’ve known them all for ages. It’ll be a really nice bucket list to work with Marcia, I’ve known her since I very first got to Sydney and started out in the industry. It will be nice to finally have a professional relationship with her.
How is Lord Farquaad different from the other roles you’ve played?
It’s completely removed from me as a performer, which is another reason I really love the role. I love it when I don’t look like me, I don’t sound lke me, the character is so far from me. And it’s much better for the storyetelling if it doesn’t look like Todd being Todd up there. In that regard, it’s a real character role. I loved doing Rocky [Horror], I loved Anything Goes. With this one… I’m kind of basing him on Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, that kind of… buffoon dictator who can’t see any fault in himself, he has the big cheesy grin but he could blow up the world at any minute, like a kid in a really dangerous candy store. I love that. I love the concept for that character, it’s bizarrely topical. That whole thing that he can’t see there is anything wrong with him, he’s evil, he loves himself sick, and he can’t even see that he’s that short. He’s just an idiot with a big ego.
Do you have a favourite song in the show?
“The Ballad of Farquaad” is my second one in the show, and it’s got a lot of different genres within the one song. But the thing I love the most about it is that it gives a reason as to why Farquaad is so grumpy and mean and evil. He gets really melodramatic about why it’s his dad’s fault, it’s really cute, like, it’s not his fault he’s mean! And in this production, I’ll be in a gym lifting weights in an Olivia Newton John-esque “Physical” outfit and headband with these really heavy dumbbells that I’m supposed to be lifting but, really, my minions are doing it and I’m kind of just touching them and pretending to sweat, which is hilarious.
What has been the best part of the process so far?
My meetings with the director have been really great. She’s totally up for us putting our own take on the characters, to a degree. Obviously staying within the Shrek framework, but she’s not wanting us to do a carbon copy of any other production. And it’s always really encouraging when the director has that point of view, because you don’t feel like you have to necessarily replicate exactly what someone else did and get trapped in their performance. She also said that I’m welcome to ad lib… so the show could run for three consecutive nights on a good night [chuckles]. I love that stuff, when you never really know what could happen, what could come out of his mouth.
Have you spent some time in the suit?
It’s one of the hottest costumes I think I’ve ever been in. And I have 5 different costumes, everyone else has 1 and I have 5. Which is not a great thing, I love a show with 1 costume – Cats is my ideal show in that regard. I’ve had extensive time in the costume because It’s all zipped and velcroed and the kneepad apparatus is quite involved – once you’re in, you’re in.
Why do you think people love the story of Shrek so much?
I think the story is great, to start with. The characters are really interesting. But it’s just such a lovely story to introduce their kids to – everybody is beautiful on the inside kind of vibe, which is a great message for young children. The humour in the stage show is so cleverly written for adults and for children – it’s all aimed at two different audiences, and in that regard it works really well, and that’s part of the secret of it. I mean, there’s a fart joke. What show can fail when it has a whole song about farting? The kids are going to giggle their heads off, and the adults are going to think it’s gross in a really funny way.
Shrek The Musical opens in Sydney in January 2020, before moving to Melbourne in February and Brisbane in May. Tickets and more information are available at shrekthemusical.com.au