BWW Review: 3-D Theatricals' Revisit with SHREK Offers Colorful Cheeky Fun
Back in 2013, I had the pleasure of seeing---and raving about---the Southern California regional premiere of the Broadway stage musical adaptation of SHREK - THE MUSICAL presented by 3-D Theatricals at their then home venue at the very retro Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA.
Even back then, this still-fresh local theater company proudly offered Orange County and surrounding enclaves a dazzling, Broadway-caliber production of this amusing musical comedy right in our own backyard. Filled with colorful costumes and sets, a bevy of rousing songs, and hilarious characters that come directly from the hit 2001 Academy Award-winning Dreamworks film, 3-D Theatricals' SHREK instantly catapulted itself as the best iteration of the show I had seen at that point.
Fast forward to 2019 (the company's 10th anniversary) and once again, 3-D Theatricals (3DT) has decided to revisit the same, well-received musical, this time mounting its impressive, high-quality production inside the gorgeous, state-of-the-art Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts---which, to put it mildly, is quite the venue upgrade. The resulting production---which continues its limited engagement run through August 25, 2019---remains a wonderfully cheeky blend of theatrical magic and whimsical glee, but with the added bonus of being in a venue that seems to be a perfect match to the show's technical prowess.
Not surprisingly, much of the creative team from their triumphant 2013 production have returned for this production---mainly its director/choreographer, David F.M. Vaughn, its musical director Julie Lamoureux, and, yes, Shrek himself who is winningly reprised by 3DT's own co-founder and artistic director T.J. Dawson. Even the original set designs by Tom Buderwitz and original costume designs by Tim Hatley make a reappearance here, cementing this production company's aim to bring Broadway directly to the city of Cerritos---both spiritually and physically.
So how is 3DT's new 2019 revival? Well, judging from the repeated chuckles and loud cheers from opening night---despite a few unexpected technical gaffes---it's safe to say that the show is once again the family-friendly hit that's worth seeing now that it's back on a stage nearby. Witty, silly, and, at times, surprisingly full of heart, SHREK is a fun, madcap distraction we all need these days.
Based on William Steig's 1990 novel and the aforementioned animated film that spawned a franchise, SHREK - THE MUSICAL is, of course, the modern, revisionist, pop-culture referential re-examination of classic fairy tales peppered with sight gags, fart jokes, and tradition-twisting characters that upends many of our long-held expectations. Through songs via composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote the joke-heavy book), we unlearn what we have known about classic heroes, villains, and damsels-in-distress.
Much like the film and the novel that inspired it, SHREK - THE MUSICAL also centers on a green ogre named Shrek, who, despite his own instinctual machinations, becomes a reluctant hero, a possible love interest, and even a trusted, valiant friend.
It certainly doesn't start out that way. At age seven, young Shrek is forced out into the world to fend for himself by his parents, who oh-so-lovingly reminds him that his hideous looks will bring nothing but loneliness and misery, so he might as well get used to it.
Harsh as that was to hear, that youthful revelation, naturally, follows him into adulthood, where he has turned into an unapologetically cantankerous, extra flatulent loner that scares everyone around him---to his delight.
"Being liked is overrated," he sings gleefully as he sprays himself with cologne from a skunk's butt.
Obviously, Shrek prefers the total isolation afforded to him by his smelly, dirty swamp home where he is free to be himself and free from judgmental neighbors or, worse, any neighbors that might interrupt his solitude.
Unfortunately, that solitude is soon interrupted by the sudden influx of mythical creature refugees that have invaded his swamp homestead. Among the now homeless "freaks" is talking puppet Pinocchio (the hilarious Adam Mantell) who explains, on behalf of his fellow wandering wildlings, that all fairy tale creatures in the kingdom (like them) are banished from their respective homes in Duloc.
The orders come from the evil Lord Farquaad (played by scene-stealing ham Daniel Dawson, one of the co-founding "D's" in 3-D Theatricals), an evil, vertically-challenged ruler who is essentially a hissy-fit throwing man-child with a ridiculous pageboy haircut (which, oddly, suits his personality) and a strong hatred for all fairy tale creatures.
The dude---like most delusional narcissists we know in the, uh, real world---just loves being praised and adored and is super obsessed in becoming the all-powerful King of the entire kingdom, which he is forcing to conform to his specific standards and looks.
Shrek, unable to banish the new squatters, decides to make the trek over to Duloc himself in the hopes of, well, convincing Farquaad to reverse his eviction notices so that the new invaders can all vacate his precious swamp home. Along the way, he meets Donkey (the wonderful Cornelius Jones, Jr.) on the run from Farquaad's ICE agents, er, I mean, Fairy Tale Creature Round-Up Squad. Humorously, Shrek, though, immediately regrets his good deed towards the strange creature because the rather chatty Donkey insists on accompanying him on his quest as his "GPS."
Meanwhile, back in Duloc, the pint-sized Farquaad learns that he cannot be crowned a King until he rescues and marries a Princess first---a magical decree revealed via the interrogation of Gingy, the Gingerbread man with gumdrop buttons (voiced by Dayna Sauble). Luckily for Farquaad, there just happens to be a Princess in need of rescuing---Princess Fiona (Jeannette Dawson, the real-life wife of T.J.!), who has been locked away at the top of a tall tower since she was a wee lass...waiting... and waiting... and waiting for a brave knight to climb up and rescue her. Sadly, her tower is apparently guarded by a fire-breathing dragon (voiced by Amber J. Snead) with a penchant for soulful, R&B singing and burning up armored knights that have attempted rescues.
Farquaad, of course, is much too delicate (and, really, too chicken-shit) for such a rescue mission, so he turns to Shrek---the big hulking ogre who shows up at his castle---for the dangerous task. Farquaad hatches an irresistible deal with Shrek: in exchange for the actual deed to his swamp home, Shrek must agree to first rescue Princess Fiona and then bring her back to Duloc to be Farquaad's wife.
And thus begins Shrek's reluctant but comical adventure through dark forests, lava moats, and Donkey's endless barrage of ass sass. There's even room for a little budding romance that blossoms in the midst of the sophomoric humor and silly antics.
Colorful, uproarious, and quite often a snarky delight, SHREK remains a genuinely entertaining stage musical that is consistently generous in its outpouring of silly, not-so-serious fun that will be enjoyable to both the young and the young at heart. Vaughn's high-energy staging keeps the show moving with nary a lag, but allows smaller moments to pause the humor enough to let in some genuinely touching moments.
Of course, the aim here is to keep us laughing, and for the most part, the show achieves this easily, mostly because of this incredible cast, led by the three Dawsons listed in the ensemble and the spitfire Mr. Jones Jr. (Bonus! Young Shrek is even played by T.J.'s and Jeanette's 8-year-old son Jude---making this a true family affair),
T.J.'s Shrek, much like his 2013 performance, does a great job of extending the character's true nature---an ogre who reacts to the sillier goofballs around him, making himself out to be a perfect counterpart to the over-the-top Farquaad, the non-stop meme machine that is Donkey, and the awkward-but-self-reliant Princess Fiona. Well, okay, sure... he goes on a journey of self-discovery but so do his traveling companions.
Daniel's Farquaad is a perfect storm of great acting swirled with great, boisterous dialogue, ensuring that his every appearance has us loving every deliciously evil, scene-chewing extra-ness he explodes out. The role is certainly a well-deserved promotion from the 2013 3DT production where he played the also scene-stealing Pinocchio (director Vaughn played the role in 3DT's 2013 production which he also originated on the First National Broadway tour).
Speaking of Pinocchio, this 2019 production features a really awesome one in Mantell, who leads the ensemble in the show's signature rousing anthem "Freak Flag" which unsurprisingly stopped the show as the audience bursts with extended applause. Also worth noting in the same number is Ms. Sauble who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy while puppeteering and giving AMAZING vocal riffs to Gingy. That loud "yaaasss" during her intro vocals in the song during opening night came from me, by the way.
Other standouts include Sloane Adams and Noelle Lidyoff as Young Fiona and Teen Fiona respectively and Ms. Snead who reprises her 2013 role as the voice of the Dragon guarding Fiona's tower.
Those with a soft spot for the original movie will have lots to love with its mostly faithful adaptation which has been purposefully energized with the magic of live theater. The score is droll and light, peppered with witty meta lyrics that poke self-effacing fun at fairy tale tropes but at the same time can also be reverent to the classics that many of us know by heart.
Observant theater dorks like me will also love all the Broadway Easter eggs sprinkled all throughout the show. Be sure to listen and look out for blink-and-you'll-miss-em amusing nods to everything from WICKED, GYPSY and A CHORUS LINE to DREAMGIRLS, SWEET CHARITY and LES MISÉRABLES, among more subtle references.
In spite of opening night audio glitches (which improved in Act 2, thankfully), a few iffy notes, and even an unfortunate slip that caused part of the scenery to fall over (kudos to T.J. for his improvised comment), this new production of SHREK is, overall, immensely enjoyable. Kids will love the wacky characters while adults will love the snarky, sometimes naughty humor. And, again, "Freak Flag" is just a great number to see over and over again.
If you haven't seen the stage production, now is a good time head over to Cerritos to see 3DT's production that boasts Broadway caliber sets and costumes combined with a truly winning ensemble cast!
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Photographs by © Caught in the Moment Photography.
Performances of 3-D Theatricals' SHREK - THE MUSICAL continue at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts through August 25, 2019. Shows are scheduled Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The Cerritos Center is located at 18000 Park Plaza Drive, Cerritos, CA. Free parking available.