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Stars and Stripes > Red, White and Green!!!

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Phantom of London
Broadway Legend
joined:3/26/08
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/26/08
Is Shrek worth the Trek???
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tommyslim
Broadway Star
joined:5/8/06
Broadway Star
joined:
5/8/06
No! i think it is shocking!
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"Lateness is a choice" - Sir Trevor Nunn
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Phantom of London
Broadway Legend
joined:3/26/08
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/26/08
The Shrek seems to get the thumbs up from Ben Brantley (New York Times).

’Tis love, the fairy tales tell us, that turns dross into gold and clods into gods. So it seems appropriate that about halfway through the leaden fairy-tale-theme costume party called “Shrek the Musical,” which opened Sunday night at the Broadway Theater, it’s a love scene that gives us a startling glimpse of true happiness.

That vision arrives when the hitherto adversarial hero and heroine of this latest screen-to-stage musical, adapted from the popular 2001 animated film and the children’s book by William Steig, recognize they just might have something in common. Never mind that this something appears to be a shared affinity for breaking wind and belching really loudly.

As embodied by Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster in a breezy song called “I Think I Got You Beat,” Shrek the ogre and Fiona the princess find a chemistry that’s more than merely gaseous. In the best tradition of screwball comedy, they transform glowery friction into dewy-eyed romance. And a show that has been trying way too hard to entrance us suddenly relaxes into goofy, genuine charm.

Such metamorphoses happen but seldom in “Shrek,” directed by Jason Moore, with a score by Jeanine Tesori and a book and lyrics by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Aside from a few jolly sequences (nearly all featuring the hypertalented Ms. Foster), this cavalcade of storybook effigies feels like 40 blocks’ worth of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, accompanied by an exhaustingly jokey running commentary.

“Shrek,” for the record, is not bad. The maiden Broadway venture of DreamWorks Theatricals (a stage-oriented arm of the company that made the movie), in association with Neal Street Productions, it is definitely a cut above the most recent offerings from its creators’ direct competitor in cartoon-inspired musicals, Walt Disney. Unlike that company’s “Tarzan” and “Little Mermaid,” “Shrek” has the virtues of a comprehensible plot and identifiable characters. And as designed by Tim Hatley, whose set captures some of the feral majesty of Steig’s original drawings, the show isn’t the eyesore that Disney’s fish story is.

But “Shrek” does not avoid the watery fate that commonly befalls good cartoons that are dragged into the third dimension. What seems blithe and fluid on screen becomes lumbering when it takes on the weight of solid human flesh.

The pop-cultural jokes and “Fractured Fairy Tales”-like spoofery that are the currency of “Shrek” (and Mr. Lindsay-Abaire sticks close to the screenplay) passed in the wink of a mischievous eye on screen. Onstage they seem to linger and grow old. And morals about inner beauty and self-esteem that went down easily enough in the movie stick in the throat when amplified into power ballads with lyrics explaining that “What makes us special makes us strong.”

Then there’s the issue of performers having to dress up to resemble fantasy illustrations, a process that, to put it kindly, tends to cramp expressive acting. As the title character, a misanthropic green ogre who learns to love, the talented Mr. James is so encumbered with padding and prosthetics that your instinct is to rush the stage and tap his head to see if he’s really in there.

He’s not the only one competing with his costume. As the evil, psychologically maimed Lord Farquaad, the very droll (and normally tall) Christopher Sieber is required to walk on his knees, with tiny fake legs dangling before him — an initially funny sight gag that soon drags, despite being the subject of countless inventive variations. As Shrek’s sidekick, the sassy Donkey, Daniel Breaker at least appears to be having a good time in his furry coverall, letting his fetlocks go limp in dismay and cutting up like a hirsute Little Richard at the Mardi Gras.

What with a whole phalanx of bedtime-story archetypes, led by a falsetto-voiced John Tartaglia as Pinocchio, as well as a giant pink dragon puppet with rolling eyes, the show starts to feel like a Christmas panto, one of those silly seasonal shows beloved in Britain and bearable because, like Santa Claus, they come around only once a year. That’s one parallel that came to my mind. The other, when I was feeling less charitable, was of seeing out-of-work actors dressed up as tacos and French fries in a mall food court.

I never felt that way when Ms. Foster was onstage, though. A performer of eight-cylinder energy and eye-searing presence, she can be a bit grating in earnest parts (as in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Little Women”). But more recently, with “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein,” she has emerged as an inspired, take-charge musical comedian in the tradition of Danny Kaye and Carol Burnett. (Seeing her in her damsel-in-distress attire, I wondered what she might make of the loud-mouthed princess in “Once Upon a Mattress,” the vehicle that made Ms. Burnett a star.)

Fiona’s big showstopper, the second-act curtain raiser “Morning Person,” is the one number in “Shrek” that gets everything right. Up to that point Josh Prince’s choreography had rarely transcended Radio City Music Hall rote, and Ms. Tesori’s score had seemed cut from the same shiny synthetic pop metal of most youth-oriented Broadway shows since “Wicked.” The staging by Mr. Moore (who knows from puppets, having directed “Avenue Q”) had seemed to move on a gag-by-gag basis.

But “Morning Person,” in which Fiona sings of the joys of a new day with an enthusiasm that crushes whatever crosses her path, has bona-fide wit. Whether blithely ripping the antlers off a deer or tapping like Ann Miller with a chorus line of rats, Ms. Foster manages both to make fun of and exult in classical musical-comedy moves while creating a real, full character at the same time. That the number works as well as it does has a lot to do with there being real human warmth (heck, make that fire) at its center.

Fiona is fun. No wonder Shrek falls in love with her. And when Mr. James responds to her, you realize that there’s a winning character (not to mention a very fine actor and singer) inside that fright suit. I know, I know, that’s what the show’s about: the beauty within. But it seems to me that if “Shrek” had more generally heeded its own advice about substance versus surface, it might have come closer to casting the spell that lets Broadway shows live happily ever after.







Updated On: 12/15/08 at 03:38 AM
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Phantom of London
Broadway Legend
joined:3/26/08
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/26/08
The New York Post gives this a Lukewarm reviewm

Rating: 3 Stars

MORE green, less yellow. If the mak ers of "Shrek: The Musical" had been brave enough to give their imaginations - and their big green guy - free rein, the show that opened on Broadway last night could have been one of the standouts of the season.

As it happens, it takes nearly all of Act 1 before "Shrek: The Musical" starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive.

Until then, Jason Moore's staging seems like a blueprint for some "DreamWorks on Ice" version, with its by-the-numbers readings from the 2001 film and greenery that looks left over from "Tarzan."

You probably know the plot: Shrek, the solitary ogre, is forced from his swamp by a flood of fairy-tale creatures banished from Lord Farquaad's kingdom. If Shrek wants his swamp back, he has to fight off a dragon and bring the lord a princess.

With a soft Scottish drawl that hews close to Mike Myers' original, Brian d'Arcy James gives us a multilayered ogre - a mix of vexation, anger, humor and woe - made all the more amazing by the fact he's emoting through green rubber. He has a fine voice and a warm rapport with Princess Fiona (the unsinkable Sutton Foster).

Fiona is a highly caffeinated soul who literally blows up songbirds and outpipes the Pied Piper (the intermittently witty choreography is by Josh Prince).

She and Shrek compete in a boisterous bout of belching and farting in "I Think I Got You Beat," bound to be repeated - the gasworks, if not the lyrics - by every kid who hears it.

Daniel Breaker, the passionate heart of last season's "Passing Strange," makes an over-the-top Donkey. Then again, who could compete with Eddie Murphy? This Donkey's all buggy eyes and padded thighs - less wiseass than ass and, with all that preening, a little light in the hooves.

Happily, we also have Christopher Sieber as the tiny tyrant, Farquaad. Sieber plays him on his knees, flaunting a pair of fabulously phony legs. He sings a funny ballad in his bubble bath - all hairy chest and teeny-tiny toes - revealing the reason he hates fairy tales: His mom was a princess, his dad was Grumpy. It's a "Wicked" back story.

David Lindsay-Abaire's book and lyrics, when he finally deviates from the film, are giddy with shoutouts to Broadway (look for "A Chorus Line," "Chicago" and "The Lion King"). And he and composer Jeanine Tesori, working here in a pop vein, deliver an anthemic "Freak Flag" ("It's time to stop the hiding/It's time to stand up tall") that might have powered Stonewall's pioneers.

You're sent out of the theater on a cloud of confetti to the strains of Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer," just like the movie. Once again, "Shrek: The Musical" plays it safe