Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the 2001 film and the 1991 book by William Steig, the musical features a humorous book by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the zany lyrics, with music by Jeanine Tesori. While Shrek may not have been that successful on Broadway, running just over a year, and some of the songs are just average, it has proven to be perfect material for regional and youth theatres with at least three different productions this season across the Valley.
Set "once upon a time" in a fairy-tale land, Shrek tells the story of a scary green ogre who lives in quiet isolation in a swamp until a group of fairy-tale creatures invade his land, telling him they were forced out of their homes by Lord Farquaad. In order to get the creatures off his land and back into their homes, Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to go on a quest to save the feisty Princess Fiona whom Farquaad wants for his bride. Shrek, with his new friend Donkey by his side, sets off to free Fiona, who is imprisoned in a tower guarded by a dragon. If Shrek can bring Fiona back to Farquaad the fairy-tale creatures will get back their homes and Shrek can finally have some peace and quiet. However, things don't go exactly as planned.
Director Bobb Cooper has found a large, talented cast of teenagers who all deliver superb portrayals as they bring the familiar characters from the film to comical life. As Shrek, Steven Enriquez has a great comical Scottish accent, which is constant throughout, and strong vocal chops. He portrays Shrek with the right balance of charm, agitation and menace, and also does well in showing how Shrek changes once he meets Fiona and finds himself having conflicted romantic feelings toward her. Addison Bowman is a firecracker full of sass as Princess Fiona. Her singing voice is terrific as are her comic abilities. She even gets to show off her fine dancing skills in a humorous second act tap number. Both Shrek and Fiona grow and change throughout the show, and Enriquez and Bowman deliver refined performances that allow us to not only experience their characters' journeys but also root for their success.
As Donkey, Brach Drew is splendid. His refined comic delivery, exaggerated facial expressions, and funny body posture make for an excellent performance as the non-stop talking character. Jared Barbee is equally good as Lord Farquaad. Performing the show entirely on his knees, and with a great singing voice, embellished gestures, and wicked comic timing, he is an absolute hoot. In the supporting cast, Emily Bowlby gets to let her rich singing voice wail as the amorous Dragon, while Albert Johnston and Isabella Conner add pops of humor and zaniness to the roles of Pinocchio and Gingy.
Cooper does a fairly good job of staging the action on the large Herberger stage, ensuring that both the comical and emotional moments land. Nathalie Velasquez's choreography is comical and varied, and danced well by the large cast, while Mark Fearey's music direction and conducting of the 21-piece orchestra is exceptional. Paul Bridgeman's set design provides several moving forest and castle elements that effectively evoke the numerous locations in the plot, while Karol Cooper's colorful costumes are exceptional and filled with fun and exaggerated cartoon and fantasy elements. Daniel Davisson's lighting design creates some lovely stage images filled with dark shadows and pops of color.
Although there are a few drawbacks in the score and the plot is basically a step by step retread of the film, the abundance of hilarious moments make for an enjoyable musical. With an incredibly talented cast, excellent costumes, and very good direction, VYT's Shrek is a whacky and fun show that also has a positive message about being yourself and how beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
The Valley Youth Theatre production of Shrek runs through August 27th, 2017, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-252-8497 or at http://www.vyt.com.
Director: Bobb Cooper