Shrek is alive and well, and he's living in Canberra
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Shrek is alive and well, and he's living in Canberra

Max Gambale might want to start filling up on Granny Smith apples and baked beans.

In a couple of weeks, he'll head into a recording studio to give a ripper belch and unleash an almighty fart into a microphone. It's all part of the job when you've been cast as Canberra's Shrek.

Max Gambale in his 'swamp' at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands.

Max Gambale in his 'swamp' at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands.

Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Gambale is playing the beloved and reclusive ogre himself in Free-Rain Theatre Company's upcoming production of Shrek the Musical, opening at The Q in late September. He beat 10 Shrek hopefuls to win the role and is now deep in Shrek research, including mastering that iconic Scottish accent.

"My three-year-old's pretty sick of me reading his bedtime stories as Shrek - I've been doing it for months," Gambale laughs.

"Reading See Spot Run in a Scottish accent gets old pretty quickly."

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He's big, he's burly and his personal study at home "looks identical to Shrek's swamp" but Gambale admits there are other similarities between himself and the ogre he's playing.

Like the frustration of constantly being judged on his looks.

Gambale has performed in 40 local musical theatre shows over the past decade, including most recently as Judge Turpin in 'Sweeney Todd' with Dramatic Productions.

Gambale has performed in 40 local musical theatre shows over the past decade, including most recently as Judge Turpin in 'Sweeney Todd' with Dramatic Productions.

Photo: Elesa Kurtz

"I identify with Shrek in a way that I've always held close to me - because he's a big, awkward, socially inept guy and he lives in this isolation," Gambale says.

"That's not to say I didn't have friends growing up - but I was a big fat guy who got teased for how I looked and judged on face value.

"If there's one aspect to the story of Shrek which is really central to his motivations, it's the fact, 'People judge me before they even know me' - that's a line from the show - and growing up that was my experience, it was very much something that happened to me constantly."

Gambale will don the famous tights and animal skin vest for the role, cut his hair short, shave his beard and undergo hours of (green) makeup every single night of the musical's two-week run.

The musical features singing, dancing and follows the plot of the 2001 Dreamworks movie, but fans shouldn't expect an exact replica. Some of the famous lines are out, but never fear, Gambale says, the "onion scene" is definitely in.

Dreamworks movie <i>Shrek</i> grossed $480 million worldwide and won the first  Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Dreamworks movie Shrek grossed $480 million worldwide and won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

"In fact, we're discussing the concept of whether I'll actually be eating a real onion on stage - a real raw onion," he laughs.

"I'm down for it, we just have to see how it works as far as playing out the scene."

While there a smiliarities, there's also one major difference between Canberra's Shrek and the animated Shrek: Gambale is a self-declared "mad scientist".

He's studying a degree at the ANU, majoring in physics and science communication and has always "had my heart set on being a scientist and a mathematician". In fact, he combines his love of science and performing almost daily in his job at Questacon.

He's one of the Excited Particles, a troupe of performers who bring to life scientific concepts through mini performances in Questacon's Japan Theatre. You may have seen him playing Russian doctor Yuri, helping kids understand the physics of a rocket launch.

"I'm one of those weird people who sits in the valley between science and performance," Gambale says.

"I can do the calculus and linear algebra as well as get up on stage and tap dance and jump around like an idiot."

The role of Shrek is a dream come true for Gambale, who rarely gets cast as the romantic lead - "I tend to play more angry characters, I do angry well" - but doesn't he feel enormous pressure playing the world's most beloved ogre?

"Yes and no," he says.

"Yes in the sense of I can only imagine how disappointed I would be if I went and saw someone else play Shrek and I didn't believe that they were doing it right," he says.

"And no because I prety much am Shrek, it's fair to say, I don't literally live in a swamp but if you go and look and my study you could confuse it for one.

"I'm a giant, burly kind of guy and I'm pretty unkempt a lot of the time."

Shrek the Musical. September 28-October 14, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, Queanbeyan. For further information and tickets: theq.net.au.