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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

John Tartaglia
Shrek The Musical

John Tartaglia
John Tartaglia
I recently caught up with John Tartaglia, who is in Seattle for the opening of Shrek The Musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre—he plays the role of Pinocchio. The show has been in previews for several weeks and John seems very excited and exhausted by it all.

David-Edward Hughes:  How is Seattle treating you?

John Tartaglia:  Seattle is amazing! I've met some great people out here and you can't beat the scenery. Truly a stunning place!

DEH:  This is the second time you've created a Broadway role, following Avenue Q, which started, of course, off-off Broadway and grew and grew. How do you feel about playing such an iconic fairy tale character?

JT:  It's been so great. I've gotten to really make him my own. In the movies, especially the first one, he's not really a multi-layered character—more of a visual comedic gag. Like so many other characters in the musical, the writing team really wanted to find his backstory and what makes him tick, so it's been nice to create that and develop who we think he is. He's not the Pinocchio you know from the Disney movie for sure!

DEH:  Do you have a solo?

JT:  Kind of. I'm the leader of all of the Fairy tale creatures, so we're all working as an ensemble together. There's a song in the second act where we really see who Pinocchio is, as the fairy tale creatures rally behind him. I get to do some really fun stuff in that song. But as far as a stand alone onstage and sing kind of moment, not really.

DEH:  Have there been many changes in the show over the course of previews What have the responses from the audience told the authors and directors?

JT:  Oh, tons! I have to say I've never worked with a writing team and set of producers that are so willing to make changes to the show and do it so fast. In many ways, the show we performed three weeks ago on our first preview night resembles the show we'll do tonight very little—which is amazing. Brand new songs, brand new lyrics, new scenes, new scenery. You name it. I love how invested everyone is on getting it right. And the audiences here are very honest and truthful as to when they do or do not like something. I don't know of any show where the audience is requested to email their thoughts and suggestions after the show to the producers, but this show does it. How wonderful!

DEH:  Did you go through many auditions to land the role? Or was Jason Moore (the director) just so anxious to work with you again after Avenue Q, that he offered it to you?

JT:  Well, it was an easier process for me than most, probably! I'm very lucky. I was wrapping up season one of "Johnny and the Sprites," and Jason Moore called asking if I wanted to do the reading of the show. Which I wanted to do, but because of my schedule, I couldn't. So, I thought, "well, I missed that boat." Luckily, a few months later, he called again and asked if I'd come in to do Pinocchio in the workshop. I was thrilled to be asked, but did have to go in for Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire and the producing team and prove myself. According to our casting director Tara Rubin, casting this show was a looonnng process and they wanted to get it right. So, I was excited and nervous auditioning, but luckily, I got the job.

DEH:  Describe the difference in the scores of Avenue Q, and Shrek.

JT:  Oh, night and day! In many ways, Avenue Q was a nod to the children's music and Broadway show tunes we all know so well. That's not to say it didn't have it's complexities and grit, but in a much different way than Shrek does. Jeanine's music is so layered and complex and stylistically different from anything I've heard recently. I just love this score. It's truly haunting in some places, but really funny and heartbreaking too.The one thing they do have in common is the comedy. David's book and lyrics are unbelievable and he's constantly topping himself. Just when you think it can't get funnier, it is!

DEH:  Jeanine Tesori certainly doesn't repeat herself in terms of styles and stories of the musicals she writes. Will her Caroline, or Change or Thoroughly Modern Millie fans be pleased? I know I was, when I heard the Shrek songs at the 5th's spotlight night last spring.

JT:  Absolutely! I think that the R&B and soul and rock sounds that she writes so well is definitely here, as well as the big Broadway sound of Millie. The score is so eclectic. You have dark haunting songs, pure rock, new agey sounding things, classic Broadway showstoppers, an old country feel in one song, a chamber piece. It goes on and on, and all of it is so beautiful. When we had our sitzprobe with the orchestra the first time, we were all cheering and crying and laughing in a way I've certainly never experienced before. It was really thrilling.

DEH:  Who in the cast do you pal around with offstage?

JT:  Well, oftentimes in a cast you get cliques and you see some people, others you don't. The wonderful thing about this cast is that we all genuinely get along and really appreciate each other's talents. Although, we always joke that it's like a Broadway insane asylum. I mean, they took 20-something of the funniest, most twisted people on Broadway and threw us all together! So, we all play well with each other. And we all love an excuse to have a party.

DEH:  With your own puppetry background, how fun is it to play a wooden puppet who becomes a boy?

JT:  I think it's some sort of Karmaic gift! Now I know what all of those puppets I've performed must have felt like. On a serious note, it certainly helps since I'm aware of how a puppet should move and what kind of abilities a puppet would have. How funny to be an actor who's a puppeteer, make my Broadway debut with a puppet on my hand, and now actually being one!

DEH:  Does the character have more of his own story arc within the story in this production, than in the film?

JT:  Yes, I can't give a lot of it away. But, he does. He is now really the ring leader of the fairy tale creatures and they have their comeuppance with Farquaad at the end of the show.

DEH:  Moving away from the show a little, I saw the "Johnny & the Sprites" episode you did with my dear friend and your Christmas Eve, Ann Harada. I bet that was a swell reunion.

JT:  It was a blast! Ann is so amazing, both as a performer and a person. Shooting "Sprites" was like being shot out of a cannon. We only had a day and a half to shoot each eleven minute episode, and Ann's was complex for many reasons, but she was a total trouper. I mean who else but a good friend would agree to belt her butt off, get soaked with water, get gelatin all over her face, etc? She was the best!

DEH:  Why didn't Disney Channel continue "Johnny"? Any chance of any more shows?

JT:  Well, it's a long story. Television is a weird business, and so much of it is about the right place at the right time. Our show has great ratings, great reviews, Emmy nominations, etc, and we did two really great seasons. Disney was very happy with it—but, due to politics, they decided to stick with the two seasons and just re-air what's there. In a way it makes sense, as there's always a new audience being born, but we were upset—we all loved creating it very much. But yeah, politics ...

DEH:  Are you an unabashed Broadway baby, or do film and TV beckon at all? What Broadway musical would you kill to be in a film version of?

JT:  I am a big Broadway baby, but much of my career has been TV based, so it's always a part of my life. Film is the next chapter I'd like to dive into. I like doing a heap of different things and not just limiting myself to one. That being said, there is nothing like live theatre and when I was away from Broadway (before I did Beauty and the Beast) it wasn't until I was back onstage that I realizes how incredibly much I missed it.

DEH:  Do you have a little downtime between the end of the Seattle run and going back into rehearsals for Shrek in New York City?

JT:  A little ... but not enough! I think physically and mentally I could use more, but we have about a week off.

DEH:  I'm really looking forward to seeing the show and your work in it, John. Thanks so much for taking time from your killer rehearsal/previews schedule to do this interview.

JT:  Thanks for asking me. I really am in love with this show, and can't wait for New York audiences to see it!

Shrek The Musical runs through September 21 at the 5th Avenue Theatre in downtown Seattle. For more information visit www.5thavenuetheatre.org.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David Edward Hughes



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