Shrek the Musical - London

The popular Dreamworks movie comes to the West End stage.

Dean Chisnall on Going Green as the New West End Star of Shrek the Musical

Dean Chisnall, 29, a regular West End presence in the six years since he left West London’s Arts Educational drama school, is now stepping into the title role in Shrek the Musical at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. An alumnus of such shows as Love Never Dies, The Woman in White, Never Forget and Evita, Chisnall began a recent chat with by expressing his joy at being tapped to replace Nigel Lindsay as the grumpy green ogre—latex makeup and all.

You’re starting a year-long run as Shrek after covering the role. How are you feeling?
When they called to say that the part had gone to me, I was just so grateful. It's one of those things that you think will never happen, so it’s been a very emotional time.

When you were covering the role, did you have your own Shrek fat suit?
Yes, and so did the second cover: We all had suits made for us. I’ll never forget the first time I went on for Nigel [Lindsay]. It was about two weeks after we had opened last spring, and we were seven or eight minutes into the show— very, very early on—and Nigel thought he could make it through but he had a bad throat, so on I went. On the other hand, maybe the best way to do it is with no prior warning. I just got thrown on and did it!

How did you take to the costume?
The first couple performances were possibly the scariest in my life. I’d been in Love Never Dies and seen the prosthetic mask for the Phantom, but to sit in a chair for 90 minutes while you’re fitted with a green head and a fat suit on top is absolutely exhausting. The first time, I thought I was going to die. It gets very hot, too: I have been known to go through six liters of water in a show [laughs].

You’re very different physically from Nigel Lindsay.
Yes. I’m taller—6’1”—and quite a bit younger; I turn 30 in June. So I’m much bigger and taller, but whether that makes me any scarier, I don’t know. Everyone is going to be different.

Have you felt a freedom to re-evaluate the role?
Well, the one thing I have made it my mission to get across is the heart and soul of this lovable ogre; Shrek really does have a heart of gold, and that has got to come across, however many “ogre moments” there are. I think people have to fall in love with this guy.

You came to Shrek from the ensemble of Love Never Dies, in which you also covered Raoul. How does that show look in retrospect?
It really was a roller coaster, but we were all pretty much of a similar age, especially the guys, so we all stuck together and mucked in. I kept a diary on the production, as I have on most of my shows, and I was reading it three months ago. What we did go through leaves you quite speechless, but it was certainly an experience I would never change.

You should publish the diary!
It wasn’t for that reason; I just keep it for myself. I find on each show that the process of maintaining a diary keeps you grounded. Also, it’s nice to look back.

What are your memories of the Evita revival that’s headed to Broadway?
That was such a special company. For a start, the people involved were so very different. They had so many strings to their bows and at the center was this pocket dynamo whose name is Elena Roger. Thank goodness she is playing it on Broadway! I know that production was very, very close to Andrew [Lloyd Webber’s] heart, and it really felt as if we could bottle the energy from that production, it was so strong. I was sad to see it go.

Would you agree that Evita improved during the run?
We seemed to get stronger and stronger and stronger, and then it just ended, which was very sad. Sometimes a show comes to a natural end, but with Evita, it was all too premature and felt as if we were ready to carry on for a long time yet. I was second cover to Magaldi at the time but never got the opportunity to go on, which can be hard to deal with, but it is what it is. At the same time, I was learning my trade; I was quite happily in the ensemble doing my thing.

For an English performer, you’ve worked with quite a lot of American talent—Rob Ashford on Evita and Shrek and Jack O’Brien and Jerry Mitchell on the original creative team of Love Never Dies.
I know, and it’s been so wonderful with Shrek to take over the leading role in one of the shows Rob has directed. Of course, another one of my dreams at some point is to go to New York. Although, having said that, I’ve got lots to do here first [laughs].

Unlike so many people who come into this profession, the West End really was an entirely new world for you, wasn’t it?
Absolutely! I’m from Ormskirk, a small town between Liverpool and Manchester in the north of England where there was really no theater. I had this idea of what I wanted to do as a career, but I didn’t know how or where or why. So when I came to London to go to drama school, it felt as if I was taking the plunge, really, and I think my family had reservations as to whether this was right for me. I don’t know how I’ve ended up here, but I am glad I did!