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Oscar Whitney Jr. (Donkey) and Scott Hurst (Shrek) rehearse for “Shrek the Musical,” with director and choreographer Piper Arpan McTaggart in the background. The show opens June 17 at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, located at 4747 Marketplace Dr., Johnstown, Colo. (Jalyn Webb/ Courtesy photo)
Oscar Whitney Jr. (Donkey) and Scott Hurst (Shrek) rehearse for “Shrek the Musical,” with director and choreographer Piper Arpan McTaggart in the background. The show opens June 17 at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, located at 4747 Marketplace Dr., Johnstown, Colo. (Jalyn Webb/ Courtesy photo)
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On “Sesame Street,” Kermit the Frog sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and while the Muppet belted out his own woes, he just as easily could be referencing Shrek.

Kelly Maur, who plays Fiona, is pictured at a read-through of “Shrek the Musical” that opens June 17 at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, located at 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown. (Jalyn Webb/ Courtesy photo)

In DreamWorks Animation’s 2001 film, the ogre has his solitude and simple life in the swamp interrupted by a number of fairy tale characters who have been exiled from their land by greedy Lord Farquaad.

Shrek embarks on a life-changing journey to save his home and the ones of his new-found comrades. Farquaad, who wants to become king, sends Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona, a beauty who is keeping a big secret of her own while she waits for her true love in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse is bringing the beloved story to the stage, starting on June 17, with a musical that captures all the dazzle of a Broadway show and all the hilarity of the film version.

Oscar Whitney Jr. (Donkey), Scott Hurst (Shrek) and choreographer and director Piper Arpan McTaggart during a rehearsal of “Shrek” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown, Colo. (Jalyn Webb/ Courtesy photo)

“Directing and choreographing this particular production of ‘Shrek’ feels special for a few reasons,” said Piper Arpan McTaggart. “First, we decided to cast and recraft this musical — which frequently includes a cast of about 25-plus members — with 11 incredibly talented, true triple-threats playing every role.”

In-person rehearsals have finally started back up for the dedicated crew.

“They have blown me away with their ability to create multiple funny, inspiring characters each, to execute the demanding dance choreography, usually performed by the ensemble, and to sound like a group double their size using the artful, musical styling by Phil Forman,” McTaggart said.

In addition to high-energy performances from a talented cast, audiences can expect a full-costumed production, plenty of make-up and an elaborate set.

“Now that we can have 100% of our guests back in the theater safely, we want to be sure to deliver the high-quality production values that our patrons have always come to enjoy,” McTaggart said.

Tickets for the production — that runs through Aug. 22 — start at $55.50. Included in that price is dinner. Discounted rates are available for children and students.

“I am really looking forward to seeing our audience members getting to meet the incredible characters in this show,” said Jalyn Webb, sales and marketing manager at Candlelight. “Our creative team has been dreaming up this wonderful world of Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and friends and we cannot wait for our audiences to see it.”

Oscar Whitney Jr. plays Donkey in a production of “Shrek the Musical” in 2016 at Overland High School in Aurora. (Sarah Killion/Courtesy photo)

Actor Oscar Whitney Jr. said portraying Donkey was his first foray into acting when he was in high school at 16.

“What draws me to this character is his genuine heart and Motown influence,” said Whitney, who recently graduated from University of Northern Colorado with bachelor’s degree in musical theater.

Stepping back into the funny role is a much-welcomed reunion for Whitney, as he sees a bit of himself in the quirky character.

“He brings a child-like energy to the show, whilst also being one of the coolest characters on stage,” Whitney said. “I’d say what I love most about playing Donkey is that we are very similar in the way that we are loving, accepting and are a shoulder to cry on, an open ear when our friends need us the most.”

Even before Whitney dreamed of portraying the loveable burro, he reveled in watching the animated mule — voiced by comedian Eddie Murphy — in the original film.

“I used to watch the ‘Shrek’ movie religiously growing up and Donkey was always my favorite character,” Whitney said. “It made it so easy when I first played the role because memorization was a breeze. I basically knew the whole script.”

In September, Whitney will leave Colorado and embark on a theatrical journey within the City that Never Sleeps.

Oscar Whitney Jr. acts in “Tarzan, The Stage Musical” at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in 2019. (RDG Photography/Courtesy photo)

“The plan is to go to New York and go on as many auditions as possible,” Whitney said. “While I’m doing that I’ll find and begin working a day job to hold me up until something comes along. I do plan to continue my education by taking acting, dance and voice classes in the city to keep my skills up.”

For many members of the cast and crew, the opening of this show is an opportunity to once again get back into the groove of live plays after significant time off.

“I auditioned for this show in hopes of just getting to perform on stage again,” said Kelly Maur, who also recently graduated with bachelor’s degree in musical theater from UNC.  “It is my first show since before COVID and I could not be more excited to be playing Fiona.”

Like Whitney, Maur has previous experience starring in the heartwarming production. She played Fiona in high school.

“It’s been really fun to rediscover who she is now that I’ve graduated college,” Maur said. “She is ‘a mess of contradictions in a dress’ — full of wonder, joy, tenacity and, most of all, hope.”

Kelly Maur plays Fiona in a production of “Shrek the Musical” at El Dorado Musical Theatre in California in 2017. (Kelly Maur/Courtesy photo)

In the 2001 film, Princess Fiona is voiced by Cameron Diaz.

“This cast is seriously amazing,” Maur said. “Just wait until you hear Scott Hurst sing as Shrek. He’s incredible and I feel so lucky to be his leading lady.”

Scott Hurst was last seen as Lancelot in Candlelight’s production of “Camelot.”

“About half the cast is actually current or graduated UNC students and the Candlelight regulars have taken us in with open arms,” Maur said. “We all just get to go to rehearsal and laugh all day, but we’re really lucky to have such a talented and kind group of people.”

Maur is hoping the onstage chemistry and joy will be contagious.

“I hope audiences leave the theater with their cheeks hurting from smiling,” Maur said. “After the year we’ve all been through, we could all use a good laugh. ‘Shrek’ is a hilariously good time, but it’s also really about acceptance and learning to love who you are.”

She, too, will make the journey to the Big Apple in a few months.

Actress Kelly Maur will play Fiona in Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s production of “Shrek the Musical.” (Kelly Maur/Courtesy photo)

“The plan is to head out to New York City in the fall,” Maur said. “I’m a Northern Californian who came to Colorado for undergrad and now it’s time to head to the East Coast for a new adventure.”

But, before Maur and Whitney leave Colorado, they will entertain audiences with a slew of Shrek performances as part of an eclectic and industrious cast.

“They’re each stars on their own accord — all performing at least a solo verse of a song and several lines/characters throughout the show,” McTaggert said. “They are tireless workers and brave, creative collaborators.”

Behind the belly laughs, finger-snapping tunes and comical character interactions, is a deeper message about kindness and love.

“Honestly, the heart of this show involves several principals that guide me in the ways I try to live my daily life and the ideals I try to teach my 7-year-old son daily,” McTaggart said. “Don’t judge people for how they look, for what you think they might be or before you know them.”

Like “Star Wars,” fans of the film franchise are incredible loyal and can look forward to “Shrek 5” hopefully hitting the silver screen in 2022.

The messages of togetherness and unity found in the films continue to resonate with audiences of all ages.

“It’s about acceptance,” McTaggart said. “It’s about celebrating our truest selves. And, it’s about holding each other up. It reminds us to be proud of what makes us different, because it’s also what makes us special. And most importantly, that each of us is beautiful, just the way we are.”

Tickets can be purchased by calling Candlelight’s box office at 970-744-3747, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays, or online at ColoradoCandlelight.com.

“For many of us, this is the first project that brought us back to the theater after a year off due to the pandemic,” McTaggart said. “There’s a real sense of gratitude, commitment and magic that we are all feeling each and every day now that we’re back to doing what we love. It’s palpable.”