BWW Review: SHREK, THE MUSICAL at Walnut Street Theatre
SHREK, THE MUSICAL may not be the (self-described) greatest fairy tale ever told, but it is one of the most joyous, cheerful and animated musicals I've seen in years. (I say animated for it is taken from the DreamWorks film SHREK). The cast, the costumes, the sets and the music make this #1 in my years of reviewing Walnut Street.
With a book about a lovable green ogre, with ears like mushrooms, it is a triumph of comic imagination with a heart as big and warm as the actors who play the characters. It is the most ingeniously wacky, transcendently imaginative Broadway musical since THE PRODUCERS and more family-friendly than that rat-a-tat gag-fest. (Witness many gleeful children in the audience opening night). The production number "Freak Flag" led by that rascally fibber Pinocchio (Adam Hoyak) and the Fairy Tale characters came as close to a standing O half way through Act 2 as I have seen. The production number "What's Up Duloc" choreo'd by the amazingly creative Robbie Roby, tipped his hat to Fosse.
Director Glenn Castle had his entire troupe (including many children whose joy in being on stage was palpable) moving at break neck speed to keep the action, the dancing, the sight gags, the bits at warp speed. Set Designer Robert Kovach's swamp and so artfully picturesque; a fairy tale unto itself. With an over abundance of childhood characters, Costumer Mary Folino was over the top abundant in both imagination and color schemes. Designer Richard Bay's puppets were absolutely inspiring. His dragon draws thoughts of Chinese New Year in San Francisco.
There are so many hysterical lines. One from Peter Pan (Eliot Styles) spoke to the inner child in all of us. Peter is complaining about his treatment by Lord Farquaad (Ben Dibble). One of his colleagues intones, "Oh, Peter, grow up!". No one in the audience was so inclined for these two hours.
Introverted, reclusive, green-skinned - and not GQ-model handsome - Shrek (Nichalas L. Parker), he of the dancing eyes and powerful voice, is tasked by Dibble's Farquaad (of Toulouse Latrec stature) to rescue the titian-wigged Fiona (Julia Udine) from the tower so that he can marry her and become King. This is Dibble's 23rd production at Walnut and there is nothing this charming actor cannot do...creating an evil self-absorbed Lord that fooled no one but delighted everyone; all the while traipsing about on his knees! (In the program book, Dibble shouts out to his kids, the Dibblets. I can imagine their euphoria in seeing Dad in this role. They probably call him Farquaad at home).
Udine was transcendent at Fiona. Her solo "Morning Person" was gorgeous, her dancing was excellent and her acting in the sly transition eventually falling in love with Shrek was nuanced and heartfelt.
The music was hummable and theatre geeks like myself enjoyed the several winks to Broadway's musical pantheon. To name a few:
- At the end of "What's up, Duloc?" (Reprise), Farquaads reference WICKED's "Defying Gravity" when he sings "...and no one's gonna bring me down!" followed by the famous ending note, which Dibble completely nailed!
- In that same number the ensemble references CHICAGO.
- The opening of "Who I'd Be" is reminiscent of "Bring Him Home" LES MISERABLES.
- During "Freak Flag" a flag is waved around with a face on it, which resembles the famous logo of young Cosette from the same show which is accompanied by a dance similar to "Do You Hear The People Sing".
Everyone remembers Eddie Murphy's Donkey from the movie. Added by the majority oflaugh lines, Dana Orange does his best Murphy blabbermouth, magpie impersonation. (Hold it! Can donkeys be magpies?) His 'takes' were laugh riots. During a part of "Don't Let Me Go", he sings to the music of "Take Me or Leave Me" and "I'll Cover You" from RENT.
SHREK, THE MUSICAL speaks to tolerance, anti-discrimination, honesty and the power of love and happy endings. In this political environment, these are qualities we should all consider to be paramount.
This production would make an outstanding Christmas gift for your children and grandchildren...and you too!
Through January 5. WalnutStreetTheatre.org 215.574.3550