At age 22, Colin Parker is obsessed with storybook characters. He also spends most of his waking hours thinking about a green-skinned ogre and his wise-cracking donkey sidekick, as well as a diminutive lord who yearns to be king.
Parker, a 2009 Reservoir High School graduate, is in charge of the fictional kingdom of Duloc, where Shrek's beloved swamp home is overrun by uninvited guests whom Lord Farquaad has exiled in an attempt to clean up the neighborhood and win election.
The area premier of "Shrek the Musical" will have a six-show run July 18-21 at Glenelg High School, presented by the Teen Professional Theatre of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. First seen on the Broadway stage in 2008, the play based on the 2001 animated kids' film quickly became a family-friendly hit.
Shrek's murky bog is populated with a plethora of legendary imaginary beings like Pinocchio, the Three Blind Mice and "Gingy" the Gingerbread Man, and that makes for a costume- and scenery-heavy production. There's even a 14-foot dragon puppet and a stage lined with oversized storybooks.
As stage manager, Parker, an 11-year member of CCTA's teen troupe that was founded in 2002 by Toby Orenstein, oversees it all.
"I've always been involved on the stage, but it's been an eye-opening experience to see it from the other side," said Parker, who lives with his family in North Laurel. The teen theater is open to youths ages 13-21, so he has aged out of the troupe as an actor.
His family drove him from their former home in Beltsville to participate in the critically acclaimed teen-plus productions during his middle school years before moving to Howard County just before he started high school.
"We came here because this county is more supportive of the arts," explained Parker, who plays nine instruments and took voice lessons for 10 years.
Music, not acting, is his main focus, and he is halfway to earning degrees from Towson University in music technology and music education. He is a member of a ska band called 3 Second Lunchbox, which he describes as "rock and roll with horns." And he is working on writing his own musical based on the Agatha Christie murder mystery, "And Then There Were None."
But for now, most of Parker's life unfolds backstage.
"I visualize how [the production] will run and think about the quick [costume and scenery] changes," he said. Kids can be a demanding audience because "they want to see what they saw in the movie" with no compromises.
"The Teen Professional Theatre is exactly what it says — we have the same standards as Toby's Dinner Theatre, and hundreds of auditions were held to whittle the cast down to the best actors," Parker said. "Some roles are double or triple cast so we can make sure we showcase all of our great players."
Melissa Rosenberg, executive director of the 41-year-old CCTA, said the philosophy behind the Teen Professional Theatre is "to bring together the top kids, the ones who are really serious about performing, so they can work with their peers.
"This is upper tier, and we have received five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts over the years," she said.
The musical based on Shrek's exploits also serves as a hook, she said.
" 'Shrek' is considered a lighter piece that will hook you into returning to see something more complicated, or just into seeing more theater," she said.
Rosenberg also believes there's a deeper appeal to the play's plot.
"In this day and age when bullying is such an issue, the theme of being accepted for who you are is an important one" that resonates with kids and parents alike. The added bonus in the script is humor aimed at parents that blends seamlessly with predominantly kid-friendly themes, she said.
Parker described the CCTA production as adhering "very, very close to the movie," which was based on a 1990 book by William Steig.
"But we can launch into these huge musical numbers, and that makes it really fun for kids to see on stage," he said. Sprinkled with references to such popular musicals as "Wicked" and "Dreamgirls" and even to Tina Turner, he said the script ensures that parents are far from left out of the fun.
"Shrek's whole journey changes a lot of lives, not just his," Parker said, adding that is an important metamorphosis for kids to witness. "It's shaping up to be a really good show."
Tickets for "Shrek the Musical" are available online at CCTArts.com or at the door. For information, call 410-381-0700.