Publish: Nov. 13, 2014 | Update: Nov. 19, 2014
Marissa Bostick | Asst. A&E Editor
When I first heard that ‘Shrek the Musical’ was going to have a run at the Landis Performing Arts Center, I was a bit apprehensive.
Usually when something I like is adapted for a large production, I get excited. The thought of ‘Shrek’ being a musical just baffled me. Nonetheless I took my seat and soaked in the décor created for this musical.
The proscenium arch had a scroll-like banner that read, “Once Upon a Time…” to echo the storytelling to come.
The orchestra pit also was decorated with a grass look and cat nine tails to give the stage a swamp like atmosphere. Interestingly enough, there was also a walkway around the orchestra pit allowing the actors to be more a part of the audience.
Opening scenes in any kind of production often set the entire emotional narrative and this Gary Krinkle directed musical followed that very path.
“Big Bright Beautiful World,” the opening song, was comical in part and oddly refreshing as a young Shrek’s parents explain the world to him as they send him to be on his own at only 7 years old.
Although the song had its nuances it still lacked comedic timing until it was rescued by changing the opening to “Fiona the Musical.” Stephanie Wall’s diva-esque version of Fiona saved the opening number by giving it life again and the funny punch it lacked.
The opening is also where we first see Shrek, played by Josh Tangermann.
This is actually the third time Tangermann has played this character and it showed.
“Unlike the movie, I can put heart, I can put emotion into it” Tangermann said, “that’s what I love because Shrek can go through so many ups and downs and it’s just something that makes for a great part.”
After being displaced by Lord Farquaad, played by Johnny Fletcher, and relocated to Shrek’s swamp, Pinocchio played by Justin Goei, and the fairytale creatures break into a song appropriately titled, “Story of My Life.” The ensemble sing about how happy endings just don’t seem to work out for them.
A couple of the best one liners in the musical come out in this song like the three little pigs exclaiming, “He huffed and he puffed and he signed an eviction notice!” The big bad wolf’s one liner unquestionably was a close second as he also howled out, “They called me a hot tranny wolf mess.”
Even though the musical was about Shrek, Anne Montavon’s Gingy might be the sleeper best character of the musical possibly because she stuck to the character without over doing it.
While the story of Shrek is a familiar one, the progression along the storyline seemed to advance quicker than expected.
Fletcher, interestingly enough, played Lord Farquaad on his knees the entirety of the play, showing great dedication to the character. The only real fault with the character was the design or the decision to have flimsy fake legs that often distracted from their comical intentions.
The book and lyrics written for the musical by David Lindsay-Abaire obviously drew from the movie, which kept in jokes that were meant to go over children’s heads. One of those being the joke alluding to Farquaad “overcompensating for something with such a large castle.”
Another creative thing was the quoting of other Broadway classics like Wicked. After sending Shrek to find Fiona, Farquaad sings “…and no one’s gonna bring me down” hitting the high notes at the end of the run along with striking the pose and being doused in emerald green light.
Not straying far from the original Dreamworks version of the musical, there were three Fionas to sing, “I Know It’s Today.” Having the part split into three allowed the emotional stance of the character be known giving it even more depth than before.
Instead of having somebody in a cheesy dragon costume onstage, a larger than life detailed puppet with three puppeteers played Dragon, whom Anjanique Jewell voiced off stage.
The musical was filled with highly relatable music, Tangermann felt that the most relatable song was “Who I’d Be.”
“It asks if you could be anyone in the world here’s who you’d be and Shrek says if I could be anyone else in the world except an ogre I’d be a poet, I would be a Viking, I would be this and this and this and this, it’s just anyone can relate to that.”
To close out the dialogue in act one Donkey, played by Charles McCoy, shrieks out in fear of Dragon prompting Shrek to hurry after him. After being rescued, Fiona calls after Shrek to “slow down!” only for Shrek to shout back “Well, I’ve got to save my ass!”
In most musical’s the orchestra is sometimes seen, always heard but never truly involved until now.
Every time Donkey or Shrek made a short joke to Fiona about Farquaad, the orchestra’s drummer assisted with a “bum dum tiss” to end the joke.
Fiona even asked the drummer, “What are you doing?” and then pointed to the conductor then to the drummer and making a hand motion almost like she was saying, “what the hell, knock it off.”
Staying true to the childish nature of ‘Shrek’, he and Fiona let out a disgusting exchange of burps and farts in “I Think I Got You Beat.” Although the song started as an inside look about how they really viewed their respective childhoods it quickly lightened up, especially after Shrek says, “that’s a chipotle squirter.”
One of the more serious songs was “When Words Fail” which seemed misplaced even though it gave the emotional backing for Shrek’s feelings toward Fiona until he misunderstands something Fiona tells Donkey in private.
Although the show was not a Broadway production, most of the aesthetics of this production seemed to be. However the frequency that Tangermann tucked his mask into shirt became a bit distracting.
Before accepting that he was not a real boy, Pinocchio makes fun of Peter Pan telling him he was 34 years old and needed to shave.
After a bit of encouragement, Pinocchio then lead the fairytale creatures in an encouraging song titled “Freak Flag.” The song’s message being about embracing your differences and letting them be known with no shame by letting your freak flag fly for all to see.
Reprises of songs often give a completely different emotional stance than before. The reprise of “Big Bright Beautiful World” gave it a new light and turned its earlier dark meaning into something romantic, especially as Shrek sings it to Fiona.
Although there were many comical elements to the wedding scene of the play, the best might have just been the Fairytale creatures storming the wedding. Various characters held hilarious signs that read, “#occupyduloc,” “make wishes not war” and “I have the right to bear arms.”
There was really only one real problem with the end, the audience wasn’t sure if “This Is Our Story” was the ending song until they sang, “I’m A Believer.” The confusion could have been due to rolling out a pair of giant hearts that read “the end” during “This Is Our Story.”
Even after nearly laughing myself to tears at times, I still can’t figure out why Shrek was made into a musical. This musical is undeniably something to bring young children to that will introduce them to the world of theater. It could be possible that turning Shrek into a musical was done with that in mind, either way, I’m a believer.