Family Brings Family-Friendly ‘Shrek’ To VHS


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Austin Williams shaved his head to play Shrek this weekend. He'll be accompanied by Gabe Riccitelli as Donkey and Jill Lanese as Fiona.
Austin Williams shaved his head to play Shrek this weekend. He’ll be accompanied by Gabe Riccitelli as Donkey and Jill Lanese as Fiona.

Shrek is a family-friendly tale, both in its original Dreamworks animation and its Broadway musical version. There are fictional families in the story, like Lord Farquaad and his father the king, Princess Fiona and her father King Harold, and of course Fiona and Shrek in the end. But in the Verona High School version–which runs from Thursday to Saturday, March 6 to 8–there are some families in the 30-member cast as well. Like Kelsey and Carina Mitchell, Colin and Abby Pope, Katie and Nick Kast, and the biggest family cast of all, the Williams family.

VHS senior Austin Williams is the lead Shrek, with his usually slender frame wrapped in a fat suit for the production and his head shaved to be suitably ogre. His sister Miranda, a sophomore, plays the teenage version of Fiona for the opening number and then heads to the wings of the stage to help with the crew. That’s what the audiences will see, but there’s more: The show has also benefitted from the assistance of Austin and Miranda’s parents. Mom Melody–she’s “Mamma” to one and all in the Shrek cast–choreographed the show and dad Tom helped build the set and handle the show’s technical details. Melody Williams is also the current president of the Spotlight Players Association, the booster group that supports theater at VHS.

Miranda Williams (right) is one of the show's three Fionas, together with Maddie Boyle and Jill Lanese.
Miranda Williams (right) is one of the show’s three Fionas, together with Maddie Boyle and Jill Lanese.

Given Verona’s reliance on volunteers to make activities happen, it’s not uncommon to find parents involved in them: They haul drums and gear as Marching Band parents and use their college player credentials to coach sports. So it is too with the Williamses.

Melody grew up in Kentucky and was spurred to audition for the prestigious New York City performance school Juilliard by a theater teacher in her home state. At Juilliard, she studied alongside Marsha Cross from Desperate Housewives, Eric LaSalle from ER, Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Kelly McGillis (Top Gun), and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards on Netflix).  If you saw the 1987 Broadway version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Melody Williams was in the cast with the ever malevolent Alan Rickman (Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter). Tom, meanwhile, was performing in regional theater in the south. After Tom and Melody met (while performing Lend Me a Tenor) they moved to New York City and Tom moved full time into stage crew work.

"Mamma" Melody Williams provided the show's choreography--and lots of helpful tips for the cast.
“Mamma” Melody Williams provided the show’s choreography–and lots of helpful tips for the cast.

Verona got its first glimpse of the Williamses’ theatrical streak in 2010, when Austin starred in Seussical at H.B. Whitehorne. (His co-star in that performance was Gabe Riccitelli as Horten; Riccitelli will also be his onstage buddy in Shrek, as the extremely talkative Donkey.) He’s been in several VHS plays and musicals, playing the dentist with a fondness for laughing gas in Little Shop of Horrors, the unfortunate Scout contestant in Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the geeky violinist in Fame. He also rocked the very first Cops & Rockers teen band competition at VHS, as the lead vocalist for the winning band, Fusion. But theater might not be in his future after he graduates this June: Austin has an interest computer technology and would like to train in the U.S. Navy’s SEAL special operations force.

“Shrek, The Musical”, will be at VHS from Thursday, March 6 to Saturday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for students will be $5 on March 6. For the other performances, students will be $8. Tickets for seniors are $8 at all performances and adults are $10. All tickets will be sold at the door.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


  1. Cast and crew have been working very hard to put together a great show – tickets are inexpensive ($10 for adults; $8 for seniors and students, except $5 for students for Thursday 3/6 show). Come support Verona!


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