3-D Theatricals follows its phenomenal revival of Jason Robert Brown’s deep, dark, fact-based Parade with its polar opposite, the bright, breezy, and entirely fanciful Shrek The Musical, in its own way every bit as triumphant as its extraordinary predecessor.

IMG_4235 Far from being just another animated movie-turned-Broadway musical or a show designed only for tiny tots, Shrek The Musical is a smart, funny, tuneful musical treat with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rabbit Hole) and music by multiple award-winning Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie).

IMG_4100 Fans of the 2001 DreamWorks Animation smash, a movie also not just for kids, will recall the tale of Shrek (T.J. Dawson), a big green ogre sent at the age of seven to live life alone in the swamp, that is until the fairytale-loathing three-foot-tall Lord Farquaad (David F.M. Vaughn) boots Pinocchio, Peter Pan, the Three Bears, the Big Bad Wolf, and other storybook creatures from their homes, giving them no other choice than to crash chez Shrek. A friendly if overly loquacious Donkey (Brandon Armstrong) suggests to Shrek that the two of them set off on mission to persuade Lord Farquaad to rescind his order, and though the ogre at first resists his suggestion, he eventually gives in.

IMG_4429 Meanwhile, the lovely if daffy Princess Fiona (Melissa WolfKlain) awaits (and awaits and awaits) the arrival of Prince Charming so that she can make her escape from the dragon-guarded tower in which she’s been imprisoned since childhood.

Learning of Fiona’s dilemma, and of Lord Farquaad’s obsession with her (he hopes that by marrying a Princess, he’ll someday become King Farquaad), Shrek offers to liberate the fair Fiona in exchange for being given the deed to his swamp and the privacy its ownership will restore to him.

IMG_4322 Shrek The Musical works on many levels. Yes, the children will love it, and that includes adults who haven’t yet forgotten what it was like to be a child. At the same time, its scads of clever one-liners will whoosh right over the kiddies’ heads and into grownup ears, and if those grownups have any familiarity with musical theater, then Shrek The Musical’s many hat-tips to Broadway classics will prove even more of a delight. Romcom lovers, too, will surely respond to this tale as old as time. After all, who among us hasn’t dreamed of meeting and marrying Prince (or Princess) Charming? Finally, this tale of a bunch of bullied, despised “freaks” will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt victimized, particularly LGBTs, for whom Act Two’s “Freak Flag” (which feature the lyrics “it’s not the choice you make. It’s just how you, were hatched!” and Pinocchio’s final cry of “I’m wood. I’m good. Get used to it!”) makes for the best Pride Anthem in years.

Tesori’s score may well be her finest yet. Running the gamut of musical genres, Tesori’s music and Lindsay-Abaire’s craftily constructed lyrics sneak in references to Wicked’s “Defying Gravity,” Dreamgirls’ “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and Gypsy’s “Rose’s Turn,” to name just three. Lindsay-Abaire’s dialog sticks close to the movie’s, a particularly savvy choice where Donkey (voiced in the film by the one-and-only Eddie Murphy) is concerned.

3-D Theatricals hit the jackpot in securing the services of original Broadway cast member Vaughn, who starred as Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical’s First National Tour (both under the direction of Jason Moore), bringing his expertise and insights this time round not only as star but as director as well.

IMG_4159 And speaking of jackpots, there’s no bigger one than Shrek himself, 3-D Artistic Director Dawson in a performance so revelatory, it can only be called Shrektacular. Vanishing under Shrek’s green prosthetic mask (built from scratch each performance day during a two-hour makeup session), Dawson captures Shrek’s deep burr of a voice, his warmth, his heart, and his good humor, and sings the role as sensationally as it has been sung.

A trio of Shrekcellent supporting performances back Dawson up to perfection.

IMG_4638  WolfKlain, last seen at the Plummer Auditorium as Ginger Rogers in FCLO Music Theatre’s Backwards In High Heels, plays Princess Fiona with such gusto and sass that it’s no wonder the comely redheaded royal could win an ogre’s heart. Add to that WolfKlain’s expert comedic and dance skills (particularly when tap-tap-tapping away with a stageful of human-sized rodent Rockettes) and you’ve got a leading lady who’d turn any rival green with envy.

IMG_4451 As Donkey, recent AMDA grad Armstrong gives us his best Eddie Murphy, then throws in some sassy black drag queen and powerhouse vocals for good measure, to make the role thoroughly, infectiously,  ass-tastically his own.

IMG_4269 Finally, there’s the scene-stealing Vaughn in the role that scored Christopher Sieber a Tony nomination, and rightfully so. Like his Broadway predecessor, Vaughn plays the entire role on his knees (Kate Bergh’s ingenious costuming making us believe in Farquaad’s itty-bitty legs) and does so with such fabulousness and flair that we can’t help loving Shrek’s purported villain.

Dance captain Daniel Dawson’s adorably squeaky-voiced Pinocchio stands out among Shrek The Musical’s weak-link-free supporting cast, made up of Keith A. Bearden (King Harold, Captain Of The Guard), Sydney Blair (Baby Bear, Mouse), Alison Boresi (Ugly Duckling, Mouse), Brennley Faith Brown (Teen Fiona, Little Bo Peep), Michael Cavinder (Papa Ogre, Papa Bear, Thelonius), Alex Ellis (Sugar Plum Fairy, Gingy), Jenna Gillespie (Mouse, Shoemaker’s Elf), Laleh Khorsandi (Fairy Godmother), Emily King Brown (Wicked Witch, Queen Lillian), Emilie Lafontaine (Young Shrek, Grumpy), Johnny Machesko (Peter Pan), Hadley Belle Miller (Young Fiona), Robert Ramirez (Bricks Pig), Arthur L. Ross (Straw Pig, Piped Piper, Bishop), Amber L. Snead (Mama Ogre, Mama Bear, Dragon), Jon M. Wailin (Big Bad Wolf), and Drew R. Williams (Sticks Pig)—each and every one as good as it gets, a Shreksational ensemble that could easily give any cast of Broadway triple-threats a run for their money.

Special snaps go out to big-voiced Ellis (belting out as both Gingy and Sugar Plum) and Dragon Snead, whose “Forever” makes her the female counterpart to the countless males who’ve voiced Little Shop’s Audrey II. Kudos also to Blair, Boresi, and Gillespie, who provide Shrek The Musical with some Dreamgirls magic as the Three Blind Mice.

To choreograph Shrek The Musical, 3-D Theatricals imported New York-based Justin Greer, who provides us with one showstopper after another.

Design talent is 100% local, however, and what a design team they are.

Rather than simply renting touring sets and costumes, 3-D has opted to go from-the-ground-up, securing the design wizardry of Tom Buderwitz, whose three-dimensional Shrek sets are as gorgeous and fanciful as the best Disney or Pixar pic, and Kate Bergh, whose multitude of fairytale costumes are among her very best and most imaginative. (Future regional productions could do no better than to rent these 3-D originals.)

Jared A. Sayeg’s vibrant lighting design makes Buderwitz’s and Bergh’s creations look all the more stunning, while sound designer John Feinstein not only mixes orchestra and vocals to perfection, he has come up with a greater number of perfectly timed farts and burps than you’ve probably ever heard coming from a theater stage. (Fortunately, they are odorless.)

And speaking of orchestras, musical director extraordinaire Julie Lamoureux conducts a pitful of musicians every bit the equal of their Broadway counterparts (provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective).

Teresa Hanrahan once again comes up with prop after fabulous prop and Cliff & Kat Senior with wig after fabulous wig. Mike Marino deserves a round of applause for his prosthetic makeup design, Denice Paxton for her makeup design, and Jonathan Infante for his projections. Jason Vaughan and Le Chef Costumier, Inc. are responsible for character design.

Finally, there are the inestimable contributions of puppet designers Christian Anderson and Derek Lux, whose chef-d’oeuvre is the show’s 25-foot-long Dragon puppet, manipulated by four cast members in black—film animation come magically to life.

Donna R. Parsons is production stage manager and David Jordan Nestor assistant stage manager. Amber Gutilla is assistant to the director. Jene Roach is technical director, Hanrahan production manager, Yolanda Rowell wardrobe supervisor.

Shrek The Musical is produced by Daniel Dawson. Gretchen Dawson and Jeanette Dawson are co-producers.

Shrek The Musical had me in the palm of its big green hand from the show’s Fractured Fairy Tale opening to the post-curtain call full-cast sing-along performance of The Monkee’s “I’m A Believer.”

If record-breaking attendance at Press Opening Night is any indication of box office potential, Shrek The Musical is likely to be one of 3-D Theatricals’ biggest hits ever, and justly so. It’s Grade-A family entertainment that adults may well enjoy even more than the kids.

Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
July 20, 2013
Photos: Isaac James Creative

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