It is completely accurate to say that Joey McDaniel has a thirst for many things.
A man of varied tastes, McDaniel spends much of his time at his place of employment, Electronic Arts in Redwood City. He also enjoys a good beer, and runs a blog with his wife Jen that shows great spots on the Caltrain line for those who want to enjoy a cold brew without having to drive home.
And for the next few weeks, he will be spending his time yelling at people’s waists like a crazy person.
That’s because McDaniel is taking on the role of the pint-sized Lord Farquaad in Foothill Music Theatre’s production of Shrek, the Musical” at the Smithwick Theatre in Los Altos Hills. It’s a role that thrills McDaniel, an opportunity to showcase his skill set in the realm of committed, physical theatre.
“At the end of the day, the beauty of this show is that there is no such thing as over the top,” said the 39-year-old McDaniel, who first tasted the stage as a six-year-old in a piece of patriotic fluff he believes was titled “Sing America, Sing.” “When you are playing a cartoon, bigger is always the best choice, and it’s delicious to be as cartoony evil as possible while being three-feet tall.”
The show, with music by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), is based on the 2001 full-length animated feature of the same name, and saw its Broadway debut in 2008. The show follows the journey of the young ogre Shrek, who finds his life upended by a ton of fairytale characters who are removed from the kingdom of Duloc and now inhabit his swamp. Shrek, along with the donkey he saves from torture, named Donkey, travel to confront the man who kicked them all out, the evil Farquaad, as well as save Princess Fiona.
It’s a show that McDaniel did not think he’d like as much as he did when it came out, but that all changed when he first heard the cast album. Hearing some of his favorite Broadway performers, names such as Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster sold him immediately. And the chance to take on such a wild and crazy role years after that initial listen was a great opportunity.
“I liked the original ‘Shrek’ quite a bit, but when they started to make the musical, as someone who thinks everything should be a musical, it felt like they were just going for the tourist trap dollar,” said McDaniel. “It became a lot better than it could have been, and ever since the release of the original Broadway recording, I’ve been a fan.”
Director Milissa Carey is a fan of McDaniel’s uninhibited style of preparation. As an actor, McDaniel says that he loves giving more and more in rehearsal, which allows a director to scale him back if needed. And for Carey, she’s a bit baffled as to how he has yet to destroy himself.
“He’s such a smart and adept actor, and when you throw out an idea, he’ll do it,” said Carey. “He’s so agile and is willing to try a lot of different things until he lands solid. Not everyone can do that.”
Carey is quick to point out that even something as big and broad as “Shrek” needs to have a heart and humanity. Too much of the cartoony style can be deadly for a show. And instead of mugging for the length of the show, there must be more depth.
“In a broad comedy, you still have to play it from truth,” said Carey. “With Joey, we needed to work together to find his version so that it’s coming from the place of a real guy, even though it’s a fairy tale world and he has tiny legs. That work takes an A-plus game actor and Joey is game.”
For McDaniel, who has not had a lot of formal training as an actor, he is constantly taking in knowledge from the artistic folks he works with. He is constantly around creative people, and loves everything he gains from them. From his theatre pursuits to his day job and even to a cold brew on the Caltrain map, everything in his life is rooted in creativity.
“What I do at EA, a lot of my job and paycheck is all about the user experience, and looking at the best way to tell a story using software,” said McDaniel. “A good theatre class and a piece of software feels like the same muscle to me.
“I’m thirsty for creative outlets, for my job and for my hobby.”
And when there’s a thirst, whether it’s a beer or the boards, it has to be quenched.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Foothill Music Theatre presents “Shrek, the Musical”
Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Milissa Carey
The Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College
12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Through Aug. 6th
For tickets and info, call (650) 949-7360 or visit the company’s website