Volume 78 - Number 33 / January 14 - 20, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
SHREK THE MUSICAL
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Jason Moore
By SCOTT HARRAH
Adapting a Hollywood blockbuster movie into a Broadway stage musical is never an easy task, but “Shrek the Musical” is that rare theatrical commodity—like John Waters’ “Hairspray”—that actually lives up to the movie on which it is based and results in a splashy, colorful musical that’s thoroughly enjoyable from the very first scene. If this were an original musical, it would be brilliant on its own, but the fact that it’s an adaptation of an animated feature film speaks volumes about its narrative simplicity and lavish, creative spectacle. “Shrek the Musical” is the 2008/2009 Broadway season’s greatest surprise and a nonstop delight, and is far superior to most of the Disney fare theatergoers have been subjected to the past decade.
Tony-winning musical comedy actress Sutton Foster gives one of her best performances to date. She was wonderful in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and was one of the few good things about Mel Brooks’ dreadful musical adaptation of “Young Frankenstein,” but here she’s sheer perfection as Princess Fiona. She’s got the soaring voice, the razor-sharp comic timing, and the marvelous dancing legs to bring the troubled princess to glorious musical life. Brian D’Arcy James as Shrek the Ogre (wearing a prosthetic green ogre costume that cannot be easy to perform in) is equally sublime, and the two actors have strong onstage chemistry, especially in the humorous duet “I Think I Got You Beat,” complete with silly belching and gas passing that shows, in an wickedly droll way, why the two were meant to be together.
There’s also lots of magic between Shrek and his fey buddy, the flamboyant, wisecracking Donkey (played with wit and verve by Daniel Breaker, seen earlier in 2008 in “Passing Strange”). Breaker as Donkey is a hoot, uttering acerbic, catty one-liners about Shrek’s flatulence and awkward appearance that never fail to get laughs. Tony nominee John Tartaglia (of “Avenue Q” fame) gives a fun performance as Pinnochio (complete with a growing, animated nose), but it’s a shame he wasn’t given a larger role in the show.
Based on the mega-hit 2001 Dreamworks animated feature, “Shrek The Musical” tells the fairy-tale story of an ogre who has to leave his beloved swamp as a group of various forest creatures (pigs, Humpty Dumpty, rabbits, etc.) are banished from the kingdom of the nasty, tyrannical Lord Farquaard (played amusingly by Christopher Sieber of “Spamalot” fame, wearing an odd-looking midget suit with tiny, atrophied legs), a cad who wants to marry Princess Fiona so he can become king and finally rule this make-believe land like a true monarch. Shrek has to fight a giant, coquettish lady dragon and other evil forces if he wants his swamp back.
Anyone familiar with the film knows the rest of the plot, and David Lindsay-Abaire’s book fairly follows the film’s storyline, but it’s the songs he co-wrote with composer Jeanine Tersori that really make the show soar, thanks to Tony winner Tim Hatley’s intricate set and costumes, and Josh Prince’s elaborate choreography.
“Shrek the Musical,” with its razzle-dazzle production numbers featuring dancing and singing creatures, is fun for kids but contains as much coarse adult humor and garish dancing revelry as any Vegas show. One of the best numbers is “Donkey Pot Pie,” in which Donkey sings about all the reasons why the sexy, gigantic, computer-animated female dragon puppet (with her rolling googly eyes and oversized eyelashes) shouldn’t eat him, while a chorus of smaller dragon ladies sing along. Equally effervescent is the song “Freak Flag,” in which the forest creatures sing the praises of individuality and why there’s nothing wrong with being different.
The film “Shrek” was such a genius concept, with all its groundbreaking animation, that one would have thought it would be impossible to adapt it for the stage. But director Jason Moore pulls it off nicely here, getting solid performances from a talented cast that has to perform in cumbersome costumes amongst numerous special effects that simply work and never come across as gimmicky. The show’s only true flaw is its length. At over two hours with an intermission, it may be too long for most kids’ attention spans, but it never fails to entertain, and that’s the point of any truly great musical.