By Art Thomas
This is the second, and last, week for “Shrek, the Musical,” presented at Playhouse Square as part of the Broadway series. Based on the cartoon from Dreamworks and the children’s story before that, “Shrek, the Musical” is a theme park show on steroids.
The story has as its basis the ideas of a knight on a quest, the question of chivalry, and that true beauty lies within a person. The story is influenced by fractured fairy tales and an irreverent Monty Pythonlike approach to the story. So too is the musical similarly influenced.
Shrek is an ogre booted out by his family as a child. He encounters a donkey who joins him on his quest to get his land back and to free Princess Fiona from cranky Lord Farquaad. Green and huge, he is either feared or mocked by just about everyone he encounters. That he has an obstreperous butt hole does not endear him to others either. That’s what happens when you live in a swamp.
The touring production has enough theater magic to capture the interest of adults as well as children. If you’ve seen theme park shows based on cartoons, you have an idea of what “Shrek, the Musical” is. Know that this is ten times the scale of a show in Orlando, however.
We see Shrek first as a child, charmingly played by Danielle Soibelman who has the privilege of playing a young Princess Fiona as well.
When he meets a forest full of fairy tale types, the audience goes bonkers over Blakely Slaybaugh’s Pinocchio. The actor is adept in Tim Hatley’s amazing costume-watch his nose grow when he tells a lie. Alan Mingo is a fast-talking Donkey who becomes the sidekick-another critical part of the quest story structure.
David F.M. Vaughn is the stubby and affected Lord Farquaad. Remember the smart-talking gingerbread cookie? Well, he’s on stage as well. The latter is part of the marvelous puppet creations of Hatley. His dragon is especially magnificent, requiring multiple puppeteers as well as a gospel-style performer as the “voice.”
“Shrek, the Musical” features music by Jeanne Tesori and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. The songs are so-so musical theater fare, and not particularly memorable. They do serve to point out the dramatic spine of the show, and give the lead players as well as the chorus a chance to show off.
If you have children, or grandchildren, and want to give them a really magical theater experience, take them to see “Shrek, the Musical,” which plays through Sunday at the Palace Theatre. They will thank you and be on their way to becoming active theatergoers.