Theater Review: Shrek the Musical
EmptyVenue: Broadway Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
The trend of adapting animated movies to the stage continues with this first attempt by DreamWorks to cut in on the bounty that Disney has enjoyed on Broadway. Not as transformative as the landmark in the genre, "The Lion King" (to which this production pays playful homage), or as reductive as the mediocre "The Little Mermaid," "Shrek the Musical" is a fun, largely successful musical version of the first installment of the hugely successful film franchise. Only the daunting economic climate could get in the way of this show becoming a family audience Broadway hit.
Plenty of impressive theatrical talent has been assembled here, including director Jason Moore ("Avenue Q"), composer Jeanine Tesori ("Caroline, or Change") and lyricist/book writer David Lindsey Abaire ("Rabbit Hole").
After an opening scene depicting a 7-year-old Shrek being sent off by his parents to fend on his own, the show stays largely faithful to the movie's plot, depicting the love that blossoms between the giant green ogre (Brian d'Arcy James) and the beautiful Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster) while he and his sidekick Donkey (Daniel Breaker) escort her to her impending nuptials with the villainous and very diminutive Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber).
Obviously geared for children, the show will not bore their adult chaperones in the least thanks to large doses of the irreverent, often scatological humor that also infused the film and a gay pride subtext that is exemplified by having the supporting cast of fairy tale characters harmonizing about letting their "Freak Flag" wave. Theater aficionados will enjoy the fleeting references to such shows as "A Chorus Line," "Wicked" and "Dreamgirls," while fans of the movies will appreciate the cameo appearance by Puss 'N Boots.
Tesori's music is more functional than fabulous, but there are plenty of lively uptempo numbers and several affecting ballads. Highlights include "Morning Person," which shows off Foster's physical comic skills as her princess deals rudely with various forest creatures; "I Think I Got You Beat," a hilarious duet between Shrek and Fiona in which they fall in love and compete to see who can produce the grossest bodily functions; and "What's Up, Duloc," in which Sieber, cleverly costumed to convey Farquaad's small stature, performs a raucous dance number almost entirely on his knees.
Director Moore and scenery/costume designer Tim Hatley have infused the proceedings with plenty of clever visual touches -- such as Pinocchio's (John Tartaglia) ever-growing nose, a fawning Magic Mirror (Tartaglia again), a giant puppet dragon (yup, Tartaglia) and a hilarious Gingerbread Man -- that often recall their respective efforts on "Avenue Q" and "Spamalot."
The lead performers deliver beautifully sung and wonderfully comic performances that give the show a winning human dimension: Although Breaker's Donkey was both a little too fey and not quite manic enough, he garners the requisite laughs; Sieber is hysterically hammy as the dwarfish Farquaad; Foster is feminine charm personified as Fiona; and d'Arcy James is utterly endearing as the title character even with the handicap of being unrecognizable beneath his extensive makeup.
Presented by: DreamWorks Theatricals and Neal Street Prods.
Cast: Brian d'Arcy James, Sutton Foster, Christopher Sieber, Daniel Breaker, John Tartaglia
Book-lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Jason Moore
Choreographer: Josh Prince
Scenic and costume design: Tim Hatley
Lighting design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound design: Peter Hylenski