Openly gay David F.M. Vaughn plays Lord Farquaad
by Donalevan Maines
At the 2009 Tony Awards, when actors in Shrek The Musical let their “Freak Flag” fly in the opening medley, David F.M. Vaughn played The Mad Hatter. It was the fairy-tale equivalent of a Pride parade on the gayest Tonys ever, which host Neil Patrick Harris summed up by singing, “This show could not be gayer if Liza was named mayor and Elton John took flight.”
Vaughn returned for Shrek’s second highlight, “What’s Up Duloc?,” featuring Tony nominee Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad, the character that Vaughn plays in the touring production of Shrek The Musical at the Hobby Center, October 19–31.
The role is played on kneepads, with spindly legs attached to a contraption to give the illusion of a four-foot-high man in a sequined doublet.
On the Tonys, NPH mocked the role in song, crooning, “Chris Sieber? Please/Performing on your knees/Dude, that only works to win Golden Globes!”
Vaughn understudied Farquaad and 18 other roles as a “swing” in the original Broadway production, which began out-of-town tryouts in Seattle in 2008. Vaughn explained that a “swing” is even more important than the understudy for one particular part because a “swing” must go on at a moment’s notice in any of a multitude of roles.
Vaughn was born in Springfield, Va., and moved to Palm Harbor, Fla., when he was 9. “I was a total space-science nerd,” he says. “I dreamed of working at NASA, and wearing a NASA badge I thought would be so cool.”
Now, to land in Space City as leader of a land that’s out of this world, why, it should feel Shrek-tacular!
Vaughn arrives from Dallas on a sugar high from sampling deep-fried sweets at the State Fair of Texas, where Shrek played the past few weeks at Fair Park.
It’s his second stint in Houston, having performed here with Tommy Tune in Dr. Dolittle when the tall Texan played the village veterinarian who could “talk to the animals.”
“That was amazing to work with a theatrical legend on a day-to-day basis,” says Vaughn. “Before a show, we would be stretching together, and he would casually say ‘Me and Gene Kelly,’ or something about Twiggy, so matter-of-factly, because those were his colleagues.”
Vaughn’s Lord Farquaad is the diminutive bully who banishes from Duloc all the Fairytale Creatures who don’t conform to the cookie-cutter image he’s cooking up for his kingdom.
The Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood laments, “They tore my cotton granny dress, and called me a hot ’n’ tranny mess!”
Dumped from Duloc into Shrek’s swamp, the distraught “freaks” eventually outsmart the little fart by banding together and embracing their differences. So what if a pig is fat or a donkey is hairy? That’s not scary. What makes them special makes them strong.
Vaughn says the 11 o’clock number, “Freak Flag,” is “an anthem of change and individuality and community. It resonates a lot with gay audiences. When this band of people with seemingly no common links take ownership of their qualities, they sing, ‘Let your freak flag wave. Let your freak flag fly.’ It’s like a Pride parade every day.”
Vaughn remembers when “anybody would call you a faggot” in middle school, and how he “was desperately trying to not get noticed.” But things got better. In high school, although “drama club carries its own weight,” he blossomed in the eyes of his peers when he got picked to make morning announcements.
“My sister was gay, my uncle was gay, but it was an unspoken thing. We were pretty typically closeted,” he says. Then he went off to college. “All of a sudden, the world opens up and it’s wonderful!”
Vaughn “fell in love with opera,” and fell into high cotton with the national tour of Saturday Night Fever. He’s performed in Les Misérables but finds Shrek to be “equally fulfilling.”
“It’s literally two different worlds, both incredibly valid in their own ways,” he says. “Les Miz was emotionally involving, dark, heavy. Shrek is fun, silly and out there!”
Vaughn is a versatile artist who composes music and juggles a variety of personal projects. For more about him, visit his website at www.davidfmvaughn.com.
‘Shrek The Musical’
Hobby Center’s Sarofim Hall, 800 Bagby.
Tickets ($35.80–$82.15) available at 713/315-2525 (The Hobby Center) and www.thehobbycenter.org.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.