BWW Reviews: SHREK Makes a Believer Out of Richmond
Given its short run on Broadway, it's only fair that one would approach SHREK: THE MUSICAL with a little bit of skepticism. But just a few short minutes into this first-rate feast of entertainment at Virginia Repertory Theatre's Children's Theatre at Willow Lawn, audiences will believe in a dancing, singing and wildly amusing SHREK. Together, David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori have written an endearing and light score suitable for the entire family.
Director Robin Arthur has assembled some of the finest musical talent in Richmond to bring this story to life. The ensemble is brimming with performers who usually have leading and principal roles. Arthur's choreography is very effective, sometimes satirizing dance routines from other Broadway shows. Tap-dancing mice briefly mimic choreography from Fosse and Bennett in a standout and crowd rousing number.
The story comes to life with some very functional design. Brian Barker's colorful set often feels right out of a popup book and Lynne Hartman's lighting design beautifully illuminates the smallish stage. As each of the fairytale creatures emerge and parade around the swamp during "Story of My Life," it is evident that Elizabeth Hopper's costumes are going to be one of many highlights of the production.
It would be unfair to pinpoint one performance in this fine assemblage of ensemble talent. Often doubling and tripling roles are Ellie Wilson, Hanna Clinton, Ashlee Heyward, Brianne Chin, Keydron Dunn, Brent Gallahan, Audra Honaker, David Janeski, Carolyn Meade, Sara Meinhofer, Todd Patterson, Mark Persinger, Joe Winters and Hannah Zold.
John Tartaglia, who originated the role of Pinocchio on Broadway, would be proud of Richmond's own Matt Shofner who brings the wooden puppet to life with a falsetto that rivals his own in the original cast recording. The entire ensemble has a collective show stopping moment with Shofner during "Let Your Freak Flag Fly."
A bellowing baritone with a spot on Scottish accent, Jason Marks is born to play the title role. Marks' Shrek displays all the uncouth mannerisms and posturing of everyone's favorite green ogre to unbridled perfection. Makeup artist Ruth Hedberg's dexterous hands bring Shrek to life with incredible accuracy.
Aly Wepplo is enchanting as Princess Fiona. Her smile and voice charm the entire audience. Along with an ensemble of plastic Duloc dancers, Robert King's pint-sized Lord Farquaad performs the show stopping "What's Up Duloc?" with a wickedly fun ending that pokes fun at another green character on the great white way.
But the standout is Ronnie Brown's Donkey. Bursting onto the stage with intense energy that never lets up, Brown has perfect comedic timing and nails the role played by Eddie Murphy in the film. It doesn't even matter that he doesn't have the strongest voice in the cast. The roaring cheers and applause he receives at the end of the show are well deserved.
With a talking donkey, an ogre with a gigantic heart, a cross-dressing wolf and a slew of other fun characters, SHREK provides two and a half hours of pure musical theatre delight.
SHREK: THE MUSICAL runs through April 27 at the Children's Theatre at Willow Lawn.
Photo Credit: Jay Paul