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BWW Reviews: First Stage Sings 'Get Your Shrek On!'

Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo

Get your Shrek on with a set of those tiny, tree like buds the lovable ogre Shrek sprouts on his glamorous green head. Milwaukee's First Stage makes the ears available in their Todd Wehr Theater lobby when the company presents, Shrek,The Musical to open their 2013-2014 season. The fairy tale character Shrek comes to life courtesy of the DreamWorks Animation Motion Pictures, a 2001 film still beloved by fans with the book written by William Steig. Where the popular musical brings all the fairy tale creatures to children's theater though professional First Stage style.

David Lindsay-Abaire, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Rabbit Hole and Tony nominated for Best Book in a Musical, composed Shrek, The Musical with clever lyrics in his Broadway adaptation of the film. Another Tony nominated artist Jeanine Tesori delivered the very fun rhythms to hum the melodies to, including "Let Your Freak Flag Fly." Drawing upon this theater legacy, FS Artistic Director and Production Director Jeff Frank compiled an accomplished cast filled with numerous First Stage debuts so Shrek's message of loving the freakish characteristics inherent to every person's humaness sings loud and clear.

Shrek, the gargantuan green monster masterfully contained by John Maclay gives the grotesque a dry sense of humor instead of ferocious fright. The ogre's grumpy demeanor allows his vulnerability to appear when he tries to win the respect of his friend, Donkey and true love, Princess Fiona. Los Angeles Makeup Designer Lauren Wilde creates Shrek's on stage face by using a realistic prosthetic mask Maclay wears confidently so the audience believes he is indeed Shrek.

As Shrek's best friend the Donkey, Lamar Jefferson rocks and rolls with breezy ease with a unique panache only someone with a bushy grey tail could muster. Jefferson's donkey pairs with the humongous dragon heard through the voice of Raven Dockery hidden in a spectacular puppet that moves across the entire stage. Special applause goes to Milwaukee's Matt Daniels for his marvelous portrayal of the tiny raven haired, black hearted Prince Farquaad. In the Prince's effort to become King and crown a queen, he exiles all the freaky fairy tale characters from the city of Duloc to Shrek's swamp, including Bree Beelow's Wicked Witch and the Day Cast's Conlan Ledwith acting as the wooden puppet Pinocchio.

The Young Princess Fiona, Abigail Hanna, sings with aplomb while waiting patiently in her tower for a prince to rescue her until she grows up. Sixteen young performers in each of two casts add to the childlike fantasy of Shrek, where this turned upside down fairy tale finishes with a variety of happy endings instead of only the obvious one. Each happy ending produces patience, perseverance and an open heart to admire in Shrek's struggle to follow his heart to true love.

Such is also the case of the adult Princess Fiona, at first locked in her tower and cursed with a spell, played by the accomplished Elizabeth Telford, last seen as Maria in Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre's Sound of Music. Her youthful exuberance attracts the sanguine Shrek while she waited 8,423 days for her prince to deliver true love's first kiss. Whle she travels to make that path to her handsome prince charming sweeter, she walks to Duloc alongside Donkey, Shrek and Mark Hare's singing puppets, occasionally the adorable Three Blind Mice. First Stage combines Kristen Ellert's first class sets with Jessica Redish's playful choreography that highlights Brandon Kirkham's innovative costumes throughout the musical so the hilarity abounds in several unexpected scenes. Giggling and guffaws, sounds of children's laughter in the audience can be heard until the production's similar unexpected yet happy ending!

As the comical musical sings, "Unchain your child's heart," uncover "a path, a pal and a song," and then revel in First Stage's unorthodox ogre Shrek. A fairy tale that speaks to the innate beauty of being one's self, who one was created to be, whether a gingerbread man, green eared monster or a very, very short royal prince. All the while these so named "freaks" enjoy the rewards of friendship and true love. That transformed ogre Shrek asks the audience to believe there are bold new stories to tell and anyone regardless of their true physical form deserves to discover life's happiness. Happiness to be redeemed by anyone when after the enchanting First Stage performance one grabs those fabulous green ears and discovers the joy in "getting one's very own gorgeous Shrek on."

First Stage presents Shrek, The Musical at the Todd Wehr Theatre in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. For information on the First Stage 2013-2014 season, please call 414,273,7206 or www.firststage.org



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