Monday, September 13, 2010

SHREK THE MUSICAL • The Fox

I was doubtful.  I mean, I truly believe that there's room for everything when it comes to theatre, but sometimes things can get lost in screen-to-stage musical adaptations -- particularly when you're dealing with animated movies.  Character development and plot can give way to overdone gags and spectacle, which may be fine for the kids, but may leave the adults wanting a little more substance over theme park.  Then I remembered that hey, I kinda liked the movie when I saw it years ago.  Not only that, but I have no problem admitting that I love stagecraft.  Bring it -- smoke machines, gigantic set pieces, witches on cherry pickers -- I'll sit there with my mouth hangin' half open for minutes on end.

Luckily, in The Fabulous Fox Theatre's season opener, there was not only a fair bit of stagecraft, but a relatively decent plot behind DreamWorks' first musical venture, SHREK THE MUSICAL (music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire).  The tale is one that is quite familiar -- "You can't always read a book by its cover", "It's what's inside that counts", "What makes you different makes you special"… you know.  But this show was able to deliver these lessons with sincerity, as opposed to assaulting you with a ton of eye-candy to distract you from the fact that there's really nothing else going on at the core.

I can't remember the film anymore, but in the stage version, our poor little green friend has been kicked out of the swamp at a mere seven years old.  Seemingly a tradition among ogres.  Shrek (Eric Petersen) has sworn himself to a life of solitude, being generally not liked and all, until a motley crew of fairy tale characters invade his property -- driven out by Lord Farquaad (David F. M. Vaughn) who has no desire for misfits in his Kingdom of Duloc.  In order to get rid of the newcomers, Shrek embarks on a journey to meet with this Farquaad guy to get his land back, and along the way he meets the lovable Donkey (Alan Mingo Jr.), a bit of a loner himself, but much more personable.  Meanwhile, Lord Farquaad is in search of a queen to make his kingdom perfect and learns the whereabouts of the Princess Fiona (understudy, a very funny Holly Ann Butler), who coincidently had also been kicked out of the house at the tender age of seven, locked away in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon (a huge puppet on poles with puppeteers dressed in black).

*** Spoilers follow...***

Shrek and Donkey make their way to the castle, bonding along the way, and when they arrive, Lord Farquaad recognizes Shrek as someone who could rescue the princess with much more ease than he could, and tells him he will gladly give him the deed to his property as long as he rescues Fiona and brings her back to him.  Shrek agrees, and goes off to face the dragon, who develops the hots for Donkey.  They rescue the Princess, who is overjoyed, and head back to Farquaad's castle.  Curiously, Fiona always seems to make herself scarce when the sun sets, even though she and Shrek are finding that in addition to their proficiency at belching and farting, they have a lot in common.  Hmm…  Donkey learns her secret -- she was cursed as a child and transforms into an ogre... ogress...? at sunset.  She will be restored to her real self once she has been kissed by her one true love.

*** End spoilers...***

Well, you can pretty much figure out the rest right?  Things do play out the way you would imagine, but thankfully the show manages to make you become somewhat invested in the characters, so when the big moment arrives, you actually care.

The costumes and scenic design by Tim Hatley were appropriately fairy tale like, and although Eric Petersen did a fantastic job as the ogre, I was more engaged in the scenes that involved Donkey, Princess Fiona or Lord Farquaad.  Vaughn had to spend the whole show on his knees, Farquaad being vertically challenged and all, with little dangling legs and feet -- a neat little sight gag, that came just short of being overused.  There are a few musical theatre references -- everything from A CHORUS LINE to WICKED.  The Ted Drewes reference was much appreciated by the audience.  At one point, they had Donkey talking about how cool it would be to be an Anheuser-Busch clydesdale.

St. Louis is the second stop on this national tour that started in Chicago.  The show closed in NYC this past January.  I would imagine it had tour written all over it from the get-go.  How can you lose with a franchise like Shrek?  St. Louis families should eat this up with a spoon.  The kids will love it, and there's enough adult humor to keep the parents' attention.

So calm those doubts, if you had any.  There's a lot of heart and genuinely entertaining stuff in this show.  AND A BIG DRAGON PUPPET!  WHEEEE!!

And one more thing -- do ALL children have those sneakers with the blinking lights on them now?!  I got caught in a dark hallway on the way to the bathroom with a bunch of kids and thought I was being sucked into the third dimension or something.

SHREK THE MUSICAL will be in town until the 26th.  Check it out and let your freak flag fly!

2 comments:

  1. Great points! I saw this twice on Broadway - once when I took my nephew, who belly laughed through out it, and the other when I won tickets. I loved the insider theatre jokes plus the adult jokes. I enjoyed it thoroughly both times. I think it was very underrated and should have done better.

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  2. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Glad I had the opportunity to see it for myself! I love it when they throw in local references. (I'm easy) At one point, Donkey talked about being a Budweiser clydesdale!

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