BWW Review: Slow Burn Theatre Company's SHREK, THE MUSICAL is an Ogre-ific Spectacle
Slow Burn Theatre Company begins its 10th season with an ogre-ific musical about self-acceptance and letting your freak flag fly. Shrek, The Musical, which opened on October 26 at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater, gives audiences the perfect blend of heart and gross-out humor.
With libretto by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Fun Home), Shrek, The Musical premiered at New York's Broadway Theatre in December of 2008, where it would run for 441 performances. The Broadway production was nominated for eight Tony Awards®, winning one for Best Costume Design.
Based on the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks animated film of the same name, this musical tells the unorthodox fairy tale of an ogre named Shrek (Wesley Slade) and his sidekick Donkey (Reynel Reynaldo) as they attempt to rescue the beautiful but hot-headed Princess Fiona (Kimmi Johnson) from her prison of a tower. Will Fiona find her true love in the vertically challenged but handsome Lord Farquaad (Clay Cartland), or will she continue to transform into an ogress nightly?
Slade plays the title ogre with a level of charisma matched only by Broadway veterans like Nathan Lane and Brian d'Arcy James (who originated the role). His smooth and warm high baritone voice does not disappoint, especially during numbers like "Who I'd Be" and "When Words Fail." Slade also maintains dynamic relationships with Reynaldo's Donkey and Johnson's Princess Fiona. His chemistry with Johnson is especially apparent during the song "I Think I Got You Beat," where the two protagonists reveal their difficult childhoods to each other.
Johnson, who previously appeared in Slow Burn's productions of Freaky Friday and Legally Blonde, showcases her strong mezzo-soprano voice in the role of Princess Fiona. Even her higher belt notes in the song "I Know It's Today" are well-supported. Johnson gives Fiona the right touch of crassness to her archetypically classy character. She seems to have fun in her role as "a mess of contradictions in a dress."
During "I Know It's Today," Johnson is supported by two young actresses who play juvenile versions of her royal role-Ellie Rose Pulsifer (as Young Fiona) and Miranda Ferreira (as Teen Fiona). In this number, all three princesses are fantasizing about their ideal "happily ever after," where they are rescued by a white knight with his noble steed. Both performers display poised stage presence, and Ferreira gets to showcase her spot-on comic timing during her verse of the song.
Cartland's Lord Farquaad is nothing short (yes, I said short) of a tour-de-force! Cartland may be performing on his knees throughout the show, but his resonant Shakespearean voice with crisp diction makes him stand tall onstage. Whether he is meticulously torturing the Gingerbread Man or leading the ensemble in the show-stopping "What's Up, Duloc," Cartland's onstage antics are no small feat.
Reynaldo's flamboyant performance as Donkey keeps audiences laughing throughout the show. As an actor, Reynaldo's energy, dynamic facial expressions, and physicality easily compensate for rushed lines and muddled diction. Despite this, he still delivers a heartfelt rendition of the song "Don't Let Me Go," where Donkey professes his devotion to his newfound friend in Shrek.
The show's ensemble of 16, who play Lord Farquaad's henchmen and various fairytale characters, come in many shapes and sizes. Their collective energy keeps audiences engaged, even with the principals offstage. Several standout performances from the show's fairytale freaks include Trevor Wayne, Kristi Rose Mills and Cindy Pearce.
Wayne unofficially takes charge of the fairytale ensemble as the wooden boy Pinocchio with his gravely falsetto and quick wit. While Mills maintains a cute demeanor as the Sugar Plum Fairy, her puppetry skills and no-nonsense toughness shine through as she voices and operates the Gingerbread Man puppet. As Mama Bear and the voice of the dragon (another puppet operated by three actors in black), Pearce showcases her soulful and earth-shaking belt voice, especially during the power ballad "Forever" as the Dragon.
Slow Burn artistic director Patrick Fitzwater stages and choreographs this musical spectacle. As a director, he fleshes out a three-dimensional story arc in a two-dimensional fairytale environment. While the choreographic vocabulary in this production is closer to movement than actual dance, there are several moments where actors can showcase their technical prowess. Some of the sharpest dancing of the evening appears in the Act Two opener, "Morning Person," where Princess Fiona performs a tap dance break (a la 42nd Street) with a chorus line of rats.
Scenic designer Kelly James Tighe utilizes colorful and flat set pieces to enhance Fitzwater's vision of an illustrated children's storybook. Every scenic element from the trees of the swamp to Fiona's tower and Farquaad's castle are made entirely out of well-painted luan drops. Costume coordinator Dawn Shamburger and makeup designer Andrew Rodriguez-Triana pay close attention to detail in recreating Tim Hatley's Tony-winning costumes from the Broadway production.
Slow Burn continues to display their ability to make magic onstage with Shrek, The Musical. As a critic and avid theatergoer, it was a joy to see parents bringing their children to see this show. For many, it was their first time attending the theater. With beautifully crafted production values and performances by some of the finest actors in South Florida, this production of Shrek, The Musical may be the perfect introduction to musical theater for audience members of all ages.
A Broward Center and Slow Burn Theatre Production of
Shrek, The Musical
Based on the Dreamworks Animation Motion Picture and the book by William Stieg.
Directed and Choreographed by Patrick Fitzwater. Music Direction by Michael Ursua.
Scenic Design by Kelly James Tighe. Costume Coordination by Dawn Shamburger. Makeup Design by Andrew Rodriguez-Triana. Lighting Design by Jose Santiago. Sound Design by Patrick Fitzwater.
Featuring: Wesley Slade,* Kimmi Johnson, Reynel Reynaldo, Clay Cartland,* Matthew Korinko,* Trevor Wayne, Jerel Brown, Lauren Didato, Miranda Ferriera, Nicole Kinzel, Kristi Rose Mills, Samantha O'Donnell, Sahib Pabon, Mark Parello, Jr, Cindy Pearce, Brian Piedra, Ellie Rose Pulsifer, Nicolette Quintero, Casey Sacco, Randall Swinton, Jenny Totcky, Zachary Weinstein.
*Appearing through an Agreement between Slow Burn Theatre Company and Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Opened: October 26, 2019. Closing: November 10, 2019.
In the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.