BWW Review: SHREK THE MUSICAL at Walnut Street Theatre
What has little-known backstories on classic characters, a green leading lady and larger-than-life production value?
Nope, not Wicked -- but Shrek the Musical at Walnut Street Theatre checks all the same boxes. The Oldest Theatre in America's take on their holiday show is a Broadway-quality rousing good time for all ages.
Shrek is a musical adaptation of the beloved children's movie, but with a twist. The musical version digs deeper into the quirky fairytale characters' struggles with discrimination against them in the fictional town Duloc and the unlikely relationship between Princess Fiona and the loveable ogre, Shrek. Shrek the Musical has all the kid-friendly pieces you'd expect, with the pleasant addition of commentary on accepting yourself in a world that does not.
Julia Udine, the South Jersey native who made it big as Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera in 2014, plays Fiona as an optimistic dreamer everyone can relate to. She's goofy and lighthearted, bringing a breath of fresh air in every scene in which she appears. Nichalas L. Parker and Dana Orange play the buddy pair Shrek and Donkey, respectively. Their chemistry is palpable, and Orange is immediately likable as the comedic best friend. An ensemble of distraught fairytale characters showcases Walnut Street Theatre's specialty: big feel-good musical numbers that make you want to get up and dance.
As Donkey's love interest, the dragon, Donnie Hammond's voice stuns in her Act I number, "Forever." Though she sings from off-stage, the Dragon's presence is the focal point of the song, appearing as a massive puppet that took several enthusiastic ensemble members to operate.
A kid's ensemble makes cameos in the big tap number, "Morning Person," and "Freak Flag," an well-received addition the Walnut made to the original Broadway production. Young people in the audience perked up during these moments in the nearly three hour musical, thinking "wow, I could do that."
The set design by Robert Kovac is nothing short of wonderful. Kovac was faced with staging a long journey but handles it perfectly. Shrek's unassuming swamp transitions easily to the glitzy kingdom of Duloc to Fiona's castle and the dark dungeon that protects it. Even with so many locations to cover, no scene goes without a stunning backdrop that transports the audience to the mystical world of Shrek. Mary Folino's costume design faced similar hurdles -- she had to dress Pinocchio, the tiny king Lord Farquuad, ogres Shrek and Fiona and Donkey -- but each costume was thoughtful and immediately recognizable as each iconic character.
Though Shrek himself has become a social media meme in recent years, this production packs all the heart and comedy the 2001 film achieved.