Star student cast presents Shrek Jr. on Harlingen stage

HARLINGEN — He’s new to the program.

But Adrian Rivera has already impressed his directors and acting coaches in the performance of “Shrek the Musical Jr.” opening Saturday night at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.

“I’m enjoying the role of Donkey quite a lot,” said 11-year-old Adrian.

“It has been a really fun journey just experimenting and trying out new things with this character,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve actually had a lead role. I have actually been enjoying the role because he’s so energetic and loveable and he’s really good friends with Shrek.”

This is one of the most fun shows ever presented at the PAC, said Julia Bender, director.

“Rehearsals are very high energy right now,” she said. “We are super excited to put all 200 kids together.”

Two-hundred kids …

Bender’s goal when she undertook the Shrek project was to include talent from all five middle schools in the Harlingen district. In addition, several students from the Lee Means Fine Arts Academy will perform in the show.

“That’s definitely been a big difference,” she said. “This is the first middle school musical I’ve directed.”

Until recently, Bender worked at the Vela Middle School campus. About a month ago, she was named the new theater director at Harlingen High School. She’s enjoying her work on Shrek.

“We have very special kids,” she said. “Adrian is so good as Donkey.”

Several young Thespians, like Bianca Rios and Catalina Cabello-Corona, have been double cast to give as many kids the opportunity to explore stage craft. Bianca and Catalina will take turns playing Princess Fiona.

“She’s different from any other characters that I’ve played,” said Bianca, 13, an eighth grader at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.

“She’s probably the hardest character I’ve ever had to play,” said the veteran actress.

“She’s like a non-princessly princess because she can be like a princess but she can also be like a bro, like tomboyish,” Bianca said. “It’s been a little difficult trying to find a balance because she’s probably one of the funnest characters I’ve ever played.”

The role of Shrek challenged Javier Cabello-Corona, 12, to sing in a Scottish brogue.

“That part was pretty rough,” Javier said. “It started when we did the auditions. I was expecting they were going to want a Scottish accent. The night before I was on YouTube and I was looking at Scottish accents and how to do one. I went the next day and I had a pretty bad Scottish accent, but they saw it and they said, ‘Hey, that’s a start.’”

And so it was that Javier – Catalina’s younger brother – has taken Shrek from being an ornery ogre to one who finds peace.

“He’s just always annoyed,” Javier said. “He does a lot of character development throughout the show as he changes through an annoyed person who never wants to be with anybody else to a person who has a best friend, who finds love and he changes. And it’s a really good character development throughout the show.”