However epic the quest, the journey always begins with a single step.
For Jeffrey Zicker , that first step took place as a sixth-grader at Becker Middle School, when he stepped onstage to play “The Music Man’s” best pal, Marcellus Washburn.
That journey finally leads the Las Vegas native back to his hometown — as a cast member in “Shrek the Musical,” which opens an eight-performance run Tuesday in The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall.
Just thinking about returning to Las Vegas puts “a huge smile on my face — it’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Zicker says during a telephone interview from Seattle.
At least he thinks it’s Seattle; touring to 70 cities in seven months, there are times “I don’t even know what day it is,” he says. “Sometimes you kind of forget what city you’re in.”
Unless, of course, that city is Las Vegas.
“I could not be more excited,” he says — especially because “Shrek’s” Las Vegas visit will provide his first in-person glimpse of The Smith Center, which he calls “something the Las Vegas community has been needing for years.”
But at least he’s seen photographs of The Smith Center, sent by a friend who played Reynolds Hall during “Wicked’s” visit last year. He’s also heard about the theater from friends on other national tours.
“It’s their favorite venue,” he says. “Everyone’s had nothing but amazing things to say about it.”
And now Zicker, 22, finally will have the chance to form his own opinion of The Smith Center.
As understudy for “Shrek’s” title character, Zicker will play the show’s ogre hero at both March 23 performances. (He’s also the understudy for “Shrek’s” resident villain, the diminutive Lord Farquaad .)
“Quite a few friends and family” already have tickets to watch Zicker transform himself into “Shrek’s” title ogre, he notes.
And it’s not so easy being green; it takes two hours to don more than 30 pounds of ogre prosthetics.
Because Shrek “never leaves the stage,” tour officials want the show’s regular Shrek, Perry Sook , “as well-rested as possible,” Zicker says.
For the remaining six “Shrek” performances, Zicker will play two roles.
First, he’s Papa Ogre, half of the parental team that sends Shrek away from home with these words: “It’s a big, bright, beautiful world, with happiness all around, it’s peaches and cream and every dream comes true ... but not for you.”
Next, Zicker plays one of the Three Little Pigs (the one with the house made of straw), performing such numbers as “Freak Flag,” in which the musical’s fairy-tale misfits vow to embrace their very freakiness and battle Farquaad’s persecution of them.
If you don’t remember those songs from the Oscar-winning 2001 animated smash that inspired the stage adaptation, there’s a good reason for that.
They weren’t in the movie.
To bring the fractured fairy tale to Broadway, DreamWorks (“Shrek’s” studio home), hired stage veterans Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire (“High Fidelity,” “Rabbit Hole”) to create the score.
Composer Tesori (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) came up with tuneful melodies ranging across a variety of musical styles; “Rabbit Hole” author Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote “Shrek the Musical’s” book) supplied witty lyrics for everyone from the motor-mouth Donkey (Jeremy Gaston ), who joins Shrek’s quest to rescue a feisty princess, to such storybook characters as Pinocchio and the Gingerbread Man.
“In some ways, I kind of like the musical better than the movie,” Zicker says. “With the musical, you get some of the back story,” not only explaining why Shrek “is the way he is,” but also such pivotal characters as Farquaad (played by Christian Marriner ) and Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), whose “parents sent her away,” just as Shrek’s did.
No wonder Shrek and Fiona seem made for each other — a fact that’s made hilariously apparent in the one-upmanship number “I Think I Got You Beat,” in which the two trade tales of childhood trauma. (The contest ends in a draw when they show off their matching mastery of on-cue flatulence, leading to a “moment that brings the house down,” Zicker says, breaking into laughter .)
For all of “Shrek’s” hilarity, Zicker sees the title character, “strangely enough,” as “one of the most beautifully written, unlikely heroes. I think everyone can relate to him at some point.”
And it’s that link between audience and character that “hooked me at a really young age,” he says.
“There’s something about the art form of storytelling for me,” Zicker says, that illuminates “what it is to be human. It’s amazing — both as a performer and as a patron.”
After his introduction to the stage at Becker Middle School, Zicker attended Las Vegas Academy, where his favorite roles included the ardent young sailor Anthony in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” — in the world premiere of the Tony-winning musical thriller’s high school edition.
The “four years of continuous growth” at the academy “prepares you well for the world,” he says.
Following his 2009 graduation, Zicker enrolled in the musical theater program at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, which “has a number of amazing connections with casting directors,” he says.
Which explains how, as an undergraduate, Zicker wound up in the “Shrek” tour, which kicked off last October in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he says, “to see so much of the U.S.”
Technically, Zicker’s still a college student. Following the “Shrek” tour’s conclusion, he plans to return to Greeley in the fall to complete his senior year.
Zicker’s mother (who rose at 5:45 a.m. on school days so she could drive him from their Summerlin home to the academy’s downtown campus) always told him, “ ‘School is first,’ ” he says.
But when Zicker was cast in “Shrek,” she told him, “ ‘You need to take this,’ ” Zicker says. “It’s a pretty rare and fantastic opportunity.”
He’s reminded of that fact every time he performs “Shrek the Musical’s” climactic number, “This Is Our Story,” and the entire company “is looking straight out at the audience,” singing “We’re a screwy but delighted crazy stew, we are diff’rent and united — you are us and we are you.”
That’s “the only moment we ever break the fourth wall” and directly acknowledge the audience’s presence, Zicker says. “It’s a really beautiful, powerful moment, and I stand onstage and I go, ‘I love my job.’ ”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.