Conversations with “Shrek”

Eric Petersen is "Shrek" in the touring Broadway musical

When I got in touch with Eric Petersen, the actor with piercing blue eyes who plays “Shrek” in the Broadway musical’s touring production, he was gleefully shopping for his “first family Christmas tree” with his wife and baby daughter Sophia.

We agreed to talk a bit later in the afternoon, buying me a bit of time as well for an unexpected field trip excursion with one of my own kiddos. Who knows better than a new parent that family comes first? Clearly Petersen has this balancing of baby and Broadway thing down.

Before assuming the role of “Shrek” in the touring production, Petersen played “Papa Ogre” and “Straw Pig” in “Shrek” on Broadway, but also assumed the lead several times as the “Shrek” understudy.

“Mama Ogre” and “Papa Ogre” perform the show’s opening number, so Petersen felt plenty of jitters waiting for the curtain to open for that first Broadway performance.

Seems Petersen felt a bit more intimidated during his audition for the role of “Shrek” on tour, where he “sang several songs from the show and did some scene work” for several creative team members and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Petersen with wife Lisa Morabito and new baby girl Sophia Marie Petersen

Apparently Sophia (her dad calls her Sophie) wanted to be part of the action. Her parents wisely had ob/gyns both close to home and in Chicago — the first stop on the “Shrek” tour. “She was born during the third preview,” recalls Petersen.

The proud papa and professional ogre missed just that single show, and has been touring with his family ever since. “We said when we got pregnant, that whoever gets the new job, we’ll go out as a family.” Both parents are performers, so Sophia will hardly be a stranger to the stage.

Petersen got involved in theater while a student at Glenbard North High School in a Chicago suburb, and faced the same college dilemmas as other students studying the arts — including whether to attend a liberal arts college or enter a conservatory program.

Petersen says he chose Bradley University, a “small liberal arts school” in Illinois, because he had friends who attended and liked what he’d seen of their theater performances. He graduated in 2003.

“I wanted a school with fraternities and club,” recalls Petersen, “and a full life outside of theater.” Too often, he says, conservatory students lose that real life perspective that comes from doing things in addition to the arts.

“The best actors,” muses Petersen, “are real people.”

Petersen says he feels like he’s worked his whole life to be an actor — and admits that he used to think “I just want to be in a Broadway show.” Now, I suspect, he feels that one is never enough.

Eric Petersen as "Shrek" (Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of DreamWorks Theatricals)

“Being on Broadway,” reflects Petersen, “you just feel like you’re working among the best of the best — among the elite.” He says this with an air of genuine humility, never implying that he fancies himself one of Broadway’s greats. Yet time will tell.

Finding that baby/Broadway balance will certainly serve Petersen well, though he is quick to credit his wife — a fellow actor he met eight years ago while both were doing a summer stock program. “My wife is spectacular,” he says — proudly rattling off her own list of impressive credits.

You can see Petersen and the rest of the touring “Shrek” cast perform at ASU Gammage in Tempe Jan 4-9, 2011. There’s something especially magical about watching a performer who ends his evenings just the way so many of us do — changing diapers or tackling late night feedings.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to visit the ASU Gammage website, where you can learn more about the show and special opportunities for ASU Gammage patrons. Remember too that theater tickets, or gift certificates to performing arts venues, make unique holiday gifts for kids, teens and adults.

Coming up: From Russian village to Greek island, Valley student enjoys acrobatic performance art, All the hospital is a stage…and canvas

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