Shrek - The Swampy Smell of Charm
Shrek is a charming story that appeared as a DreamWorks animated feature in 2001. At that time, my kids were young, so I had the pleasure of watching the program dozens of times (not quite as many as The Lion King, but close). Shrek held up well, far better than Jimmy Neutron or Monkeybone of the same year. In 2008, Shrek The Musical appeared, following in the tradition of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, turning childhood chestnuts into Broadway magic. Smart. These stories have a built-in audience, and when you reach the quality level of these particular stories, you hook the parents along with the kids.
The trick is to make sure the added music and lyrics match the quality of the original. That was easy for Beauty and Lion King with their built-in song cycles. This is a larger challenge with Shrek. The original producers hedged their Broadway bet by bringing in Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire to handle book and lyrics and tagging Broadway musical veteran Jeanine Tesori for music. It worked. While there are no stand-outs like The Lion King's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," the songs hold up well and sufficiently match the quality of the story and original script.
Musical Theatre Southwest took this excellent material and carved out a very good production. The opening night performance earned the standing ovation it received. Score another strong production for Albuquerque theatres. I've seen a string of absolutely wonderful productions in recent weeks, including Albuquerque Little Theatre's White Christmas, and the Duke City Rep's All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, all terrific shows.
The highlights of the consistently strong Shrek The Musical include the brilliant costumes from Lila Martinez (costume design), Dee Goetz (wardrobe mistress) and Angela Flores (make-up design); wonderful choreography by Luke Loffelmacher and assistant Thomas Tafoya (extra kudos for the tap sequence); and strong music direction from Paul Barrientos.
Bryan Durden puts in a nice turn as Shrek, preserving the Scottish-like accent smoothly. Hasani Olujimi's Donkey is perfect, simultaneously annoying and charming. Ryan Shepherd as Lord Farquaad is fabulous. We're supposed to hate him, but in Shepherd's hands, we like having him around. The audience was way on his side. All of the little fairytale creatures are great, with a special nod to Julian Griego as Pinocchio.
My personal favorite is Janine O'Neill as Princess Fiona. While the Shrek character carries all of the drama and, like all good protagonists, he is the character who is forced to change, to up-level from his insistent withdrawal from life, Fiona gets to have all the fun. After decades of boredom, she's out in the world and she's loving it. O'Neill well captures her blend of sweetness and elbow-in-the-ribs swagger. She steals every scene. Oh, and I can't forget a call out to the young versions of Fiona: Madeline Bohman, Dakota Bohman, Dru Martinez, and Annette Johnson.
Nice job by directors Warren and Courtney Wilgus. I hope they continue to get the rousing crowds they saw on opening night. The enthusiasm was well deserved.
Shrek The Musical, directed by Warren and Courtney Wilgus for Musical Theatre Southwest. Performances are at the African American Performing Arts Center at 310 San Pedro NE through December 28, 2014. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 4 pm. General admission is $22. Admission for seniors, students, and ATG/TLC members is $20. Children 12 and under are $15. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at www.musicaltheatresw.com.