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Sometimes I go to the theater for deep, powerful works that convey the spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes, I go for the rich complexities of the best musicals. And sometimes, I just want to stop thinking for two hours and be entertained. Shrek the Musical provided one of those nights. This was far from the most intellectual production I’ve seen, and yet, it doesn’t matter. The production is fun and the performers looked like they were having a great time. As a result, everyone in the audience had a blast.
Based on the 2001 film from Dreamworks Animation, the stage production of Shrek follows the same story structure, but presents it in a completely different way. I was surprised to discover that this really is a full-blown musical, filled with original music from start to finish. There are a couple of moments inspired by musical cues from the film (such as the hilarious number “Welcome to Duloc”), but for the most part, the songs are completely new.
The new music wasn’t entirely memorable, and in fact, some of it was pretty simplistic. However, there were a few truly great numbers, creatively executed and integrated flawlessly into the story. Much as the original film satired the very sort of fairytale that it was trying to be, Shrek the Musical serves as a satire on stage musicals. Parodying classics such as Wicked, the Lion King and Les Miserables, this is a production that never takes itself too seriously, but never feels like it’s settling.
It obviously took a lot of creativity in order to bring this fairytale world to life. The technical work utilized to pull off this creativity is astonishing. First and foremost, the makeup is spectacular. Shrek looks exactly like Shrek, and that’s saying something. It couldn’t have been easy to capture the essence of the film’s design and make it look realistic, but they pulled it off. When Fiona undergoes her transformation, it’s even more impressive considering the speed with which they have to shift her back and forth.
However, they didn’t go for realistic detail with all of the characters. The look for Donkey is as basic as a man in a donkey suit. Most of the fairytale creatures are presented that simply, and this contrast with the elaborate ogre makeup provides part of the production’s charm. Having said all that, the best character design by far is that of Lord Farquad. The entire essence of his character hinges on his being notably short. To capture that on stage, they have the performer spend the production on his knees with tiny legs attached to creat the illusion of a short man walking.
Of course, this doesn’t look remotely realistic, and they know it, milking the costume for every laugh possible. The ridiculousness of the costume combined with the brilliantly over-the-top portrayal by Merritt David Janes had the audience rolling with laughter throughout. Just watching the performer try and navigate manuevers as simple as kneeling, climbing stairs, and even dancing, never ceased to be funny.
As a whole, the cast did a pretty fantastic job. Lukas Poost as Shrek and Liz Shivener as Princess Fiona were especially impressive in capturing the essence of their characters without simply mimicing the voices of Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz from the films. Andre Jordan wasn’t quite as successful in his portrayal of Donkey, providing a mediocre impersonation of the much funnier work given by Eddie Murphy in the films. Some characters, such as Gingerbread Man and the Dragon, didn’t have actors in costume at all. Gingerbread Man was a very funny hand-held puppet, and in complete contrast, the Dragon was a very elaborate puppet being operated by multiple performers simultaneously on the stage.
It was this combination of theatrical techniques that really made Shrek stand out. As I said, the music wasn’t anything all that special, but it was fun. There are a lot of musical moments that really flesh out the thematics in sequences that were initially glossed over in the story. For example, there is a great sequence towards the beginning where Fiona sings a song with herself from multiple ages, all hoping that will be the day she is rescued. We know in the film that she spent most of her life in this tower, but this sequence really fleshes out the emotion behind that concept.
I was surrounded by kids and their parents, and they were all laughing together throughout. A production that all ages will enjoy, I know that I had a great time watching the show. Even though it originally opened in 2009, I didn’t even know there was a musical based on Shrek until it came to Orange County. Now that it’s here, I definitely recommend it. Performances run through October 16, and tickets are as low as $20. You can purchase them online at SCFTA.org, by calling (714) 556-2787 or at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.