Story: Sent out into the world by his parents at the tender age of 7, Shrek is an ogre who lives alone in the swamp. He knows that he’s big and ugly and doesn’t need anyone to remind him of that. His life is upended, though, when Lord Farquaad, ruler of the surrounding kingdom of Duloc, orders all of the fairy tale creatures to be exiled as freaks to the swamp where Shrek happens to live.
Shrek journeys to Farquaad’s castle to reclaim his swamp. Having been told by a magic mirror that he will be king of Duloc if he marries an imprisoned princess, Farquaad sees an opportunity to use Shrek. He tells the ogre that if Shrek will free Princess Fiona from her prison castle that is protected by lava and a fire-breathing dragon, he’ll give Shrek the deed to the swamp.
Accompanied only by a talking donkey who befriends the reluctant ogre, Shrek sets out on a quest to deliver Princess Fiona, who harbors a mysterious secret, to Farquaad. Along the way, though, Shrek finds himself attracted to the high-spirited princess, who seems to enjoy his company. Could it be love?
Highlights: Created by New Yorker cartoonist William Steig as a children’s book in 1990 and translated as an animated film in 2001 that spawned three successful sequels, Shrek was adapted into a musical in 2008, running for 478 performances before closing early in 2010. A national touring production played The Fox later that year. Now, The Muny is mounting the first regional production.
Under the eventually quick-paced and lively direction of John Tartaglia, The Muny’s presentation of Shrek the Musical is a delight for kids and adults alike, once one gets past an exceedingly dull opening 30 minutes.
Other Info: Jeanine Tesori composed the music and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo) provided the book and lyrics for this modern fairy tale that brings its own twists and turns to the traditional stories of Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm and others.
Tartaglia expands the stage past the orchestra pit to add a little flair to Shrek and Donkey’s trek to Princess Fiona’s castle as well as utilizing The Muny’s LED screen to enhance the comedy. Most impressive, and probably physically exhausting, is Rob McClure’s turn as the diminutive Lord Farquaad. McClure spends much of his time on stage shuffling around on his knees behind two tiny fake legs. It’s quite remarkable how he’s able to manage the clever dance moves concocted by choreographer Vince Pesce in unison with ensemble players.
Julia Murney displays a fine comic touch in addition to a strong and steady voice as Princess Fiona. Michael James Scott commendably offers his own interpretation of Donkey’s wise-cracking ways rather than trying to emulate the uproarious antics of Eddie Murphy in the movie. As the title character, Stephen Wallem has the odd Scottish brogue down pat and works wonderful chemistry with both Murney and Webster Conservatory alumnus Scott.
Tesori’s tunes generally are upbeat and entertaining, although some of the ballads are dreary and forgettable. Probably the show’s best number is the jaunty and gross number, I Think I Got You Beat, sung by Fiona and Shrek shortly into the second act as they engage in some amusing one-upmanship. There’s also a humorous bit, How a Dream Comes True, saucily sung by Natalie Venetia Belcon as the eyelash-fluttering Dragon who is smitten by the ingratiating Donkey.
That Dragon itself is an elongated pink powerhouse smoothly manipulated by a quartet of puppeteers. Heather Jane Rolf does amusing puppetry herself as the tortured ginger bread cookie, Gingy, while Anthony Christian Daniel plays Pinocchio as a squeaky-voiced wooden boy who’s as thick as plywood.
Steve Gilliam’s scenic design has the broad, cartoonish style you’d expect for an animated feature-turned-musical, with complementary lighting by Nathan Scheuer and Seth Jackson contributing the amusing projection design. Jason Krueger adds sound, Rick Bertone is the musical director and Andrea Lauer designed the cornucopia of colorful and creative costumes.
Shrek can be heavy-handed with its messages and needs a jump start to get past the grueling first half hour and too many sappy, forgettable ballads. On the whole, though, The Muny’s initial foray into the swamp is an entertaining and amusing sojourn.
Musical: Shrek the Musical
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through June 30
Tickets: Free to $80; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Larry Pry/The Muny