Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shrek: The Musical -- 5th Avenue

Shrek: The Musical

5th Avenue Theatre

August 14 – September 21, 2008


Never fear, your wait is at an end. Shrek: The Musical is at long last here; really, really. Brian D’Arcy James (Shrek) delivers a bog-tastic performance, bringing a fully new take on the character. He’s still Shrek, no doubt about it, but he’s his own Shrek, not “bogged” down in the least by an attempt to mimic the fabulous Mike Myers. This Shrek has it all: the green, the ears, the accent and the temper—and, of course, the “better out than in” farts. Perhaps one of the funniest numbers of the show, “I Think I Got You Beat,” showcases this memorable ability in a competition with the Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster). Their gaseous, methane-infused contest is the beginning of true love, aided - as it must be - by the irrepressible Donkey (Chester Gregory). Foster brings

Fiona to life with wit and slightly neurotic charm, captivating both the audience and Shrek’s heart.

Of course, not everything is fun and farting in the land of Duloc. Lord Farquaad (the six-foot-plus Christopher Sieber) graces the stage with all three-foot-none of him with elaborate sarcasm and (literally) show-stopping flair. He even gives us the ever-desired peek into his past (“The Ballad of Farquaad”) with a moment of reflection on his perhaps not-so-noble paternity. The chorus is constantly moving between a motley blend of fairy-tale creatures and Duloc citizens, each with their own unique character, and all performers play their roles to the utmost.

Whenever an audience enters the 5th Avenue’s space they are greeted by a mixture of the modern theatre and the minute Chinese influences that make this theater stand out. However, audiences for Shrek: The Musical will receive quite a different welcome. The theatre itself has been converted into a swamp. Green light floods the audience and the dangling bog moss hangs above welcoming us into its embrace. It makes sense that the overwhelming sets and incredible puppets used throughout the show were designed together (in addition to costumes) by Tim Hatley (Broadway: Private Lives, Spamalot). They all seem to be one entity. There are moments in the show when set and puppet glide together so easily it is nigh impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins.

The music (Jeanine Tesori), book and lyrics (David Lindsay-Abaire) don’t make any attempt to force the well-loved film onto a Broadway-bound stage. They take the time to make a real adaptation of the story, not just the script. On stage, the story is told in close to seventy-five percent song with as little dialogue as is necessary. Similarly, the ever-awkward film quotes are kept to a wonderful minimum, which allows the audience to stay with the story at hand without getting caught up comparing what they’re seeing to what they remember. For example, the gleeful pop-culture references in the films are here translated to sly nods to musicals (among the many: Hair, Wicked, A Chorus Line, The Lion King).

Director Jason Moore joins some old friends (John Tartaglia – Pinocchio, The Magic Mirror - among them) to bring this show to life. Working with a play so self-referentially scripted is not always a simple task, but Moore makes it look easy. Sliding between Broadway references, lines from the film and the show’s own unique brand of comedy, Moore ties it all together with panache.

When this production transfers to Broadway, it probably won’t be this year’s massive hit or sweep the Tony awards. But this play—an incredible evening of all-ages, fairy-tale humor—knows exactly what it is, and plays to its strong points perfectly.

Review by Nigel Andrews and Lia Morgan

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