“Shrek The Musical” is grand, vibrant, and charming — just like its big and lovable protagonist ogre with an Irish temperament, Shrek, who first endearingly lumbered into the public consciousness via the eponymous 2001 film that was based on the 1990 book by William Steig. 5-Star Theatricals has offered its own tremendous take on the fairytale stage production (through October 28th), which initially debuted on Broadway in 2008. For nearly three hours that whiz by, Tony Award-winner Jeanine Tesori’s music and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s script and lyrics fly freakishly high and proud due to Kirsten Chandler’s spirited directorial vision, Karl Warden’s exuberant choreography, and Dan Redfeld’s pleasing musical direction.
“Shrek The Musical” (and its film counterparts for that matter) extrapolate the concept of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” – of an unsightly and misunderstood beast – and sprinkle the trappings of a lush fantasy world, to go along with our favorite childhood figures, and a comically formidable adversary with the greatest Napoleonic complex ever witnessed.
The narrative reflects on a burgeoning faith and an improbable romance that blooms when Shrek, who would rather be left alone in his hometown swamp, is pulled into a conflict with the diminutively dangerous, Lord Farquaad, who banishes oodles of “freaky” fairytale creatures, led by Pinocchio and company, right into Shrek’s personal space. Subsequently, upon rescuing and reluctantly befriending a donkey, Shrek, in exchange for his freedom to have his swampy solitude again, arranges to save Farquaad’s cloistered and cursed love interest, Princess Fiona. Things change, however, as Shrek and Fiona begin to forge a bond based on their backgrounds and love of bodily sounds, threatening Farquaad’s plans to marry and become king.
As those who have seen the “Shrek” movies can attest, 5-Star Theatricals’ Broadway-comparable show closely aligns with the disarming, goofy, and over-the-top sights and sentiments that push and pull our emotions until the “I’m a Believer” finale has us clapping our hands in unison. We’re into it because we have no problem suspending our disbelief, which can, in large part be attributed to not only the magnificently mythical portrayals, but Kathryn Poppen’s top-notch costume design, Jim Belcher’s bona fide hair and wigs, Denice Paxton’s meticulous makeup, and Alex Choate’s enchanting props. They are the technical, behind-the-scenes marvels that make a visually-dependent show the success that it is inasmuch as we’re thoroughly impressed with Shrek’s green visage, Farquaad’s sheenful mane, Duloc, the swamp, Fiona’s tower, and other vivid patchworks on stage.
Trent Mills is the hulking and gentle green giant who doesn’t think he deserves a “Big Bright Beautiful World” until he rescues and lays eyes on Fiona. Mills brings a significant gravitas that nicely counterbalances moments that make us giggle and have us seamlessly enjoying his Shrek materialize in the flesh. Shrek is the miraculous hero who steps into a destiny that welcomes him once he pushes through times of doubt and exasperation (e.g., “When Words Fail,” “Build a Wall”), to be the prince to an elusive love that mirrors him in heart and appearance. Mills not only sings his heart out, like in the goosebumps-inducing “Who I’d Be,” but he gets Shrek’s aw-shucks mannerisms just right to be terrifically root-worthy in the role. It is a performance that elicits sympathy, smiles, and many laughs.
Alison Woods is delightful as the damsel in distress, who is as tough-minded as she is sweet. It’s worth noting that Bayley Tanenbaum and Kate Godfrey – as Young and Teen Fiona, respectively – winningly establish Fiona’s fortitude with their beautiful voices before Woods receives the baton and vocally soars with heartwarming brilliance during “I Know It’s Today.” More than being comedically talented or a light-on-her-feet dancer (i.e., “Morning Person”), Woods also convinces us that she has really met her persona’s true love in Mills’ Shrek. The two share an effortless chemistry best exemplified in their duet/duel of “I Think I Got You Beat” in which they try to amusingly out-sass and then uproariously out-fart one another.
Furthermore, Lawrence Cummings portrays Donkey with a great deal of coolness and congeniality. While Donkey might be timid and in need of companionship (“Don’t Let Me Go”), Cummings makes sure that the hoofed humorist can take courageous charge of the stage when need be with both his smoothly powerful timbre, and when, for instance, he determinedly nudges his newfound friend to “Make a Move” on Fiona. The phrase “love is blind” receives the full metaphorical treatment here, inclusive of a dance number by Donkey and the three blind mice (Kat Monzon, Natalie Miller and Alexa Vellanoweth) that is a riot to watch unfold.
What also entrances us is Deanna Anthony’s galvanizing, fire-breathing, and full-steam-ahead singing prowess. While moving alongside her spectacular Dragon puppet avatar whose eyes fiercely glow and eyelashes sparkle, Anthony reaches into the fire and brimstone of her underbelly to harness feisty and sonorous gales of sound that blow away the audience.
The most priceless character, however, is arguably Lord Farquaad, the ultimate antagonist who might be short in stature but still manages to be larger than life. The credit for this goes to the astonishing charisma and ingenuity of Marc Baron Ginsburg, who previously amazed as Lumiere in 5-Star Theatricals’ last production, “Beauty and the Beast.” Farquaad has an entirely different disposition, though, and Ginsburg steps and waddles into the role tirelessly, nimbly celebrating with complex choreography on his knees during “What’s Up, Duloc?” and hilariously lamenting his daddy issues in the “Ballad of Farquaad.” Ginsburg immerses himself completely in the role, transcending the mere sight gag of a flaccid-legged ruler, as he mounts his “cardboard” steed, and looks on imperiously, furrowing his pencil-thin eyebrows and glowering farcically.
Assuredly, the overall talent in “Shrek The Musical” is seasoned and superb — which even goes for the youngsters in the show. Whether it’s the uncannily high-pitched Pinocchio (Kyle Frattini) with a nose that actually grows, a Young Shrek (Zachary Thompson) who establishes the title character’s innocent origins, a Gingy (Julia Lester) who shrieks and howls with gusto, or an Ugly Duckling (UCLA star Sara Gilbert) who triumphs as a marvelous dancer, there is something to appreciate for every fan of theatre.
Needless to say, conclusions are only as gratifying as the journeys that precede them. 5-Star Theatricals’ production of “Shrek The Musical” entertainingly reintroduces us to well-known characters and their collective challenge of realizing they not only deserve better, but the “perfect happy ending” where evil is vanquished and good binds individuals together.
For more information about “Shrek The Musical,” please visit 5StarTheatricals.com