Astorian doesn’t take pint−size ‘Shrek’ role lightly

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If you want to know anything about gnomes, ask Greg Reuter, the Astoria resident currently playing one of the wee creatures on Broadway in “Shrek the Musical.” Reuter is all too happy to share tales of gnomes that have appeared in fairytale lore for hundreds of years.

“Gnomes are definitely the wisest of all the fairytale creatures,” said Reuter, following a recent performance of “Shrek,” during which he dresses in a 22−inch spiral turban and a satiny turquoise robe. “They have a very friendly relationship with all the animals in the forest. They settle a lot of disputes.”

Reuter said he prefers to devote this level of attention to detail to all his acting roles. In staging “Shrek,” it seems to have been a necessity for all the actors.

“We did a lot of research on our fairytale creatures,” he said. “Your duty is to leave no stone unturned in figuring out who these people are. As an actor, there is a calmness to knowing this work was done.”

Part of Reuter’s meticulous nature, no doubt, stems from how early his training began, both as a performer and an athlete.

He began training as a dancer at age 8, after his mom “dragged me along” to watch older sister Renee taking a class at a Russian ballet academy in the family’s hometown, a suburb of Detroit.

“I started watching her through the window and apparently I started imitating her,” said Reuter. “I think I had an unlocked talent for replicating movement.”

Reuter said that he treated dancing like “any other sport.” He also took up voice and guitar lessons.

In high school, he began to see acting as a potential career and ultimately, earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Western Michigan University to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater.

The training served him well, as Reuter managed to land a job singing in Radio City Music Hall’s Easter Spectacular the second day he arrived in New York. He has performed steadily ever since, in the original Broadway cast of “Spamalot”; in “The Producers,” understudying the role of Leo Bloom; in “Aida;” in the 2001 revival of “Bells are Ringing;” as a principal dancer in “Fosse;” and in “Chicago.”

In addition to playing the role of the gnome in “Shrek,” he is also a member of the ensemble and understudies the role of Lord Farquaad, the show’s diminutive villain.

The continuing success of “Shrek The Musical” seems to be based in no small part on its appeal to both children and adults. Though cartoon−like, playful, and downright silly in most spots, the production manages to touch on some very weighty themes: the nature of beauty, the importance of individuality and self−pride, even the unpredictability of love and its choices.

The power of using humor and fantasy to both entertain and enlighten is not lost on Reuter.

“What has always appealed to me about performing was investing in your inner child,” he said. “Kids have such a broad imagination. Most adults seem to close that off, thinking it is part of the maturation process when it really is counterproductive to being a human being.”

“Shrek”’s most compelling message, perhaps, is the importance of people separating their identity from their essence, the actor believes.

“This is really a hero’s journey,” he said. “At first, it seems that it is about the journey of an ogre trying to find his essence when everyone labels him one way. But eventually, you realize that many of the other characters are on a similar journey.”

“Shrek The Musical” is playing at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway.

Worth the Trip:

Leonard Cohen: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when it was announced that Canada’s most celebrated singer−poet would play a single show at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre Feb. 19, there was a huge rush for tickets. For more than 40 years, Cohen has not only maintained his reputation as one of our most important songwriters, but has also published several collections of poetry, including 2008’s critically acclaimed “Book of Longing.”

Cover versions of his most well−known songs, “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne,” abound, by such a diverse group of artists as Jeff Buckley, Genesis, Neal Diamond, James Taylor, John Cale and many more.

But Cohen’s upcoming show will introduce new fans to his sizable catalogue of lesser−known musical gems. And longtime fans will be thrilled at the strength and clarity of Cohen’s voice and his wonderful band, featuring instruments ranging from the bandurria to the steel guitar, as well as a trio of ethereal backup singers.

Cohen has not played in New York for 15 years and tickets to the Beacon show will be tough to find. But as dozens of critics across the globe would concur after having seen a show on the current tour: Beg, borrow, or steal to get one.

The Beacon Theatre is at 2124 Broadway.

“Garden of Earthly Delights”: Queens residents and other New Yorkers have only three weeks left to see a production whose press release correctly deems it “a synthesis of visual and performing magic; this breathtaking flight of imaginative genius is sexy, evocative, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen on stage.”

The production is based on painter Hieronymus Bosch’s well−known 16th−century triptych, which portrays an array of human ecstasy and misery.

Originally staged in 1984, the new production at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the Village combines music, dance and an eerily stunning set to hypnotize the audience long after the hour−performance is done.

It is rare to have a single theater experience that evokes such a multitude of emotions and so titillates the senses. This one is a delight.

The Minetta Lane Theatre is at 18 Minetta Lane. The show closes on March 1.

“South Pacific”: Stellar reviews from critics and theater−goers have made this Lincoln Center production perhaps the toughest ticket in town this theater season.

One of the reasons is Queens resident Danny Burstein, who received a Tony nomination and an Outer Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of Luther Billis in the Tony Award−winning production. Earlier this month, on Tuesday, Feb. 3, Burstein was honored with a Sardi’s caricature at the legendary New York restaurant. Sardi’s fourth floor wall is covered with caricatures of other theater stars who have been honored. Later this season, From the Footlights will profile Burstein.

South Pacific is at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 W. 65 St.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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