Coming to Woodstock Opera House, 'Shrek' a 'dream production' for TownSquare Players

Community theater group kicks off 50th anniversary season with family-friendly musical

Kelsey Rosenorn (Fiona) (from left) of McHenry, Colin May (Shrek) of McHenry and Brandon Lewis (Donkey) of Chicago appear in "Shrek – The Musical," a TownSquare Players' production opening Nov. 3 at the Woodstock Opera House.
Kelsey Rosenorn (Fiona) (from left) of McHenry, Colin May (Shrek) of McHenry and Brandon Lewis (Donkey) of Chicago appear in "Shrek – The Musical," a TownSquare Players' production opening Nov. 3 at the Woodstock Opera House.

Brandon Lewis has appeared in “Chicago Fire” and will be seen early next year in Matthew McConaughey’s “White Boy Rick,” but the role he can’t stop talking about involves the Woodstock Opera House and a donkey.

The Chicago actor stars as Donkey in TownSquare Players’ “Shrek – The Musical,” opening Nov. 3 as a kick-off to the community theater group’s 50th anniversary season.

It’s a role Lewis sought for years, and, although he hadn’t heard of TownSquare Players or even Woodstock before auditioning, he’s now a fan of both.

“It was a dream come true to me,” Lewis said of playing Donkey. “I’m very elated to be part of ‘Shrek – The Musical’ and to be part of a new theater family. … It’s very heartwarming to know they are really like family. I feel like I’ve known them for a long time.”

Lewis isn’t the only one raving about TownSquare Players’ “Shrek,” which looks to become one of the community theater group’s most popular productions. Auditions drew a crowd of at least 75 people for the cast of 25, Director Roger Zawacki said.

The hope for the 50th anniversary season was to draw attention, and that seems to be happening, he said.

“We purposely chose shows for this season that were going to be family-friendly with big-name, recognized titles,” he said, adding the theater group will present “The Little Mermaid” in March.

“We have a dream cast. … This is one of my dream productions. I come home to my wife and she can’t believe how I’m raving about it. When she sees it, she’ll get it.”

A big production, “Shrek” involves energetic dance numbers and elaborate technical displays and scenery, including a forest handcrafted by Brent White of Woodstock. White carved the forest out of foam to create a three-dimensional experience, with trees jetting out into the audience.

“There are branches hanging over the orchestra,” Zawacki said. “I wanted the audience to see Shrek’s woods immediately when they walk into the theater.”

Along with those working with pride behind the scenes, Zawacki described his cast, including Colin May of McHenry as Shrek and Kelsey Rosenorn of McHenry as Fiona, as “remarkable.”

To play Donkey, 24-year-old Lewis has commuted from Chicago, where he’s performed on stage and in film and television since 2014 when he landed an agent. He appeared in season four’s Episode 5 of “Chicago Fire” as best man to a groom getting married in a place that catches on fire.

In “White Boy Rick,” expected to be released in January, he plays the right-hand man to the Curry brothers, based on real-life Detroit gangsters. The movie tells the story of teenager Richard Wershe, Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s.

Johnson actually had sought out the role of Donkey for years, looking for productions of it everywhere before stumbling upon the TownSquare Players auditions. He had to Google where Woodstock was.

An Eddie Murphy impersonator, Lewis said the role “gives me the ability to show my inner child without being looked at like I’m weird.”

“ ‘Shrek’ is a novelty piece,” he said. “Children that love ‘Shrek’ want to hear Donkey really sounding like Donkey. Children are going to come expecting to see the movie.”

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