Thursday, June 23, 2011

“Fairy” Tale Talk with Sandra DeNise By Donnie Matsuda


Sandra DeNise.  Photo courtesy of Catherine Major Public Relations.Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with a member of the Shrek touring company, the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, Sandra DeNise.  Sandra is one of those rare artists whose passion for dance, for performing, and yes, for life itself, has the power to lift the spirits of even the dourest of ogres.  Even through our brief phone conversation, I was energized by her boundless energy and charmed by her sparkling personality.

This bright and bubbly Sugar Plum Fairy was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and began performing at a very young age.  “Pretty much as soon as I could walk I started dancing around the living room while playing records.”  She spent her childhood singing in a church choir and performing in local church productions.  From there, she did her first musical at the age of 8 and began her formal training at age of 11.  This formal training began with jazz and tap classes and then progressed to ballet a year later.  As she recalls, “once I started dancing, all I wanted to do is dance….it made me feel important as a young girl, and struck an element of confidence.”  After high school, she was accepted into the Tisch School of Drama at NYU. 

Blakely Slaybaugh (Pinocchio) and the fairy tale creatures of Duloc in "Shrek The Musical." Photo by Joan Marcus.As far as her role in the show, she says, “I have a tutu and wig that looks like an ice cream cone with candy sticking out of it and this fabulous sequined tutu and bodice with crazy-colored tights.  There’s a number in the second act called ‘Freak Flag’ in which Pinocchio wonders why he can’t be a real boy, if only he could, then his life would be complete.  In the song, we teach him that the differences and freak-ish nature are what makes him special.  We try to teach him there is beauty in all of us and once you learn to accept who you are, you can accomplish anything.”

Sandra is also understudying the role of Princess Fiona.  When asked if she’s ever had to go on as the leading lady, she replied, “Yes, many times. This week, I get the opportunity to play [the role] several times.”  As it turns out, Haven Burton (the actor playing Fiona) just got married to the man in the cast who plays Peter Pan.  Here’s hoping they had a fairy tale wedding and live happily ever after!

Of course, I had to ask Sandra if she is looking forward to Shrek’s San Diego run.  And of course, she said yes!  “The city [of San Diego] is amazing.  I have lived in LA for several years and I’m excited to be back in So Cal.  The theatre is great, the Gaslamp is great…I have a dog and am looking forward to going hiking at Torrey Pines Reserve.”

And, she couldn’t help but throw in a little pitch for her show, a musical she describes as “fun, unbridled energy.”  In addition to noting our kid-friendly parks, beaches, and attractions, she also believes our theatre is pretty kid-friendly, too:

“[Shrek The Musical] is really a great show for families.  I hope lots of people of all ages can come out and have fun!”

Shrek The Musical plays July 5-10, 2011 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Tickets are also available by calling the Civic Theatre Ticket Office at (619) 570-1100 (Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm) or Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787.
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Upon graduating from Tisch, Sandra landed her first big break and her Equity card by joining the second national tour of Rent.  She went on to tour professionally with Parade (directed by Hal Prince), Saturday Night Fever, Hairspray, and Jersey Boys.  When asked which has been her most challenging show, she noted all were very different experiences and challenging in their own way.  However, if she had to pick one, it would be Hairspray.  “[Hairspray] would have to be the most professionally and artistically challenging show for me.  It was my first time doing a principal role [Penny Pingleton] and it was the first national tour after the Broadway show had been completed.  I loved that show and I loved working with that creative team.” Now, she’s touring the country as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the first national tour of Shrek The Musical.  She admits that her first experience with the Shrek franchise was with the Broadway musical (seeing her friend play Pinocchio) and not the movies, but she has since seen all four films and has fallen in love with the endearing story.  She joined the tour when it began about a year ago, first rehearsing in NY, with a tech run in Chicago, and then touring the country.  It makes its San Diego stop on July 5th and will be here for six days.


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