By ROY BERKO
Jeanine Tesori (music) and David Lindsay-Abaire (books and lyrics) developed the creative Shrek: The Musical from DreamWorks Animation’s film and William Steig’s book of the same name.
The script, which tells the tale of Shrek, who on his seventh birthday is sent out by his parents into the “Big Bright Beautiful World,” knowing that the strange looking ogre, will encounter problems of rejection and bullying.
Shrek, in order to survive, isolates himself in a swamp. Unfortunately, his safety and solace are destroyed when the evil Lord Farquaad of Duloc banishes Pinocchio, The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, a Wicked Witch, The Big Bad Wolf, and just about every fairy tale character in Western literature, from his lands and into Shrek’s swamp. (How they all got to Duloc is never revealed. But, remember, this is a fairy tale, so no exposition is needed.)
The banishment is because they are freaks. The fact that Farquaad is a dwarf, and he fits his own definition for those who should be cast out, doesn’t seem to come into his awareness. (Hmm, is there some resemblance here to a 2018 tale of a President and his biased blindness?)
Shrek decides that being surrounded by whining, noisy fairy tale folk is not to his liking, so he sets out to convince Farquaad that he has to take this motley crew back.
On his way, Shrek rescues a talkative donkey from some of Farquaad’s guards, thus gaining his first real friend.
What follows is a tale of Shrek making a deal with the lord to bring him Princess Fiona, who is trapped in a castle surrounded by boiling lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, so Farquaad can become King since he will be married to the princess.
The rescue, of course, is filled with many overly dramatic twists and turns, including our finding out Fiona’s secret, Farquaad’s lineage (“Hi Ho, Hi Ho” oops, that’s another tale) and Fiona and Shrek finding true love. (I told you this was a fairy tale and didn’t have to be logical.)
The keys to making Shrek: The Musical into a truly enchanting show is for the lead character to have an underbelly of lovability, the show to be a triumph of imagination with a “heart as big and warm as Santa,” an unbridled spell of wackiness, and be a gag-fest of creativity with a wink of satire. (All the story and musical elements are there to make this a reality.)
Unfortunately, except for Martin Céspedes’ creative and inventive choreography, which is filled with a variety of diverse dance styles including a knee-high kick line and borscht-belt shenanigans, and a fun portrayal by Remell Bowens who does a fine Eddie Murphy-take on the part of Donkey, the show is fairly static.
The dances explode, creating all the right moods, to be followed by acting scenes which lack the needed whimsy and creativity.
Though he has a fine voice, and obvious quality acting chops, as displayed in his portrayal of Daddy Warbucks, in the road tour of “Annie,” G.A. Taggett Gilgamesh displays little charm as Shrek, missing the lovability factor.
Brian Altman (Farquaad) and Antonio DeJesus (Pinocchio) come close to creating the story book farce, but needed directing-help to fully develop the needed images. Natalie Steen makes for a lovely Fionna, and, at times, shows flashes of the needed quirkiness, but, as with almost everyone in the cast, needed guidance in understanding that this is wackiness, farce at its highest.
The rented costumes, Brittany Merence’s projection designs and the dragon design by Jim Gough and Russ Borski all contributed to the correct visual images.
At the conclusion of the opening night show many in the audience, which was composed of friends and family of the cast, gave the production an undeserved standing ovation. Standing ovations are meant as the highest form of compliment that a member of the audience can give a production. It’s saying this is a special performance. If the gesture becomes an automatic response, it lessens its value. What do you have, then, when you see a production that is really outstanding?
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Shrek: The Musical should be an irresistible mix of adventure, laughter, romance and zaniness. In spite of creative appropriate choreography, and at least one standout performance, the production is less than it should be.
Shrek: The Musical is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, Ohio through January 6, 2019. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or click here for online tickets.