The big green ogre known throughout the world as Shrek comes to magical musical life under the Vista stars as Moonlight Stage Production offers San Diego-area audiences a supremely crowd-pleasing staging of the multiple Tony-nominated Broadway hit Shrek The Musical.
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 treat whose book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rabbit Hole) and music by Tony Award-winning Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Violet) are sure to delight audiences of all ages.
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 (Marc Ginsburg) 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 (Cornelius Jones, Jr.) 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.
Meanwhile, the lovely if daffy Princess Fiona (Michelle London) 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.
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. 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.
Moonlight could not have made a finer choice to direct and choreograph Shrek than original Broadway cast member David F.M. Vaughn, who starred as Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical’s First National Tour and reprised the role for 3-D theatricals in 2013 in addition to directing that production.
As he did two years ago for 3-D, Vaughn brings invaluable expertise and insights to a show he knows backwards and forwards (and from a mere three-feet off the ground), and this latest Shrek staging is all the richer for his guidance.
As for Vaughn’s leading man, who better to reprise his revelatory star turn as Shrek than 3-D Artistic Director Dawson, once again vanishing under the ogre’s green prosthetic mask (and a lot more extra padding this time round). Even more than he did in ‘13, 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 performers, all of them new to the musical, back Dawson up to perfection.
Laguna Beach’s very own London could win any ogre’s heart with her infectious blend of gusto and sass, along with some topnotch comedic and dance skills (particularly when tap-tap-tapping away with a stageful of human-sized rodent Rockettes).
Lion King vet Jones gets the proverbial role of a lifetime in Donkey and gallops with it, paying tribute to movie original Murphy while throwing in his own take, part sassy black donkey-drag queen, part rafter-reading vocals, adding up to the most ass-tastic of creations.
As for Southland favorite Ginsburg, is there any other performer who can go from Man Of La Mancha’s dotty Don Quijote to South Pacific’s nerdy Professor to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ sophisticated Lawrence to Shrek’s height-challenged Lord Farquaad all within the space of a year? Playing the Lord entirely on his knees (Kate Bergh’s ingenious costuming making us believe in Farquaad’s itty-bitty legs), Ginsburg is so utterly fabulous and flairful that we can’t help loving Shrek’s purported villain.
Jake Saenz’s adorably squeaky-voiced Pinocchio stands out among Shrek The Musical’s triple-threat-tastic supporting cast, completed by Katie Whalley Banville (Gingy, Sugar Plum Fairy), Janay Byrd (Dragon, Mama Bear, Mama Ogre), Crystal Cole (Baby Bear, Blind Mouse), Taylor Coleman (Young Fiona), Alexis DeDonato (Wicked Witch, Queen Lillian), Jordan DeLeon (Ugly Duckling, Blind Mouse), Chaz Feuerstine (Captain Of Guard, King Harold), Chelsea Emma Franko (Fairy Godmother), Danny Hansen (Wolf), assistant to the choreographer Rachael Johnson (Shoemaker’s Elf, Blind Mouse), Hourie Klijian (Young Shrek, Dwarf), Colden Lamb (Straw Pig, Pied Piper), Dallas Perry (Bricks Pig), David Jesse Sherlock (Peter Pan), Ala Tiatia (Sticks Pig), Edred Utomi (Papa Bear, Papa Ogre, Thelonious), and Jaidyn Young (Teen Fiona)—a Shreksational ensemble that could give any cast of Broadway triple-threats a run for their money.
Special snaps go out to power-piped Banville (belting out as both Gingy and Sugar Plum) and to Byrd’s Dragon, whose “Forever” makes her the female counterpart to Little Shop’s Audrey II. Kudos go also to Cole, DeLeon, and Johnson, who provide Shrek The Musical with some Dreamgirls magic as the Three Blind Mice, and to Franko, who ends the show with the evening’s most spectacular high note.
As choreographer, Vaughn provides us with one showstopper after another, from the tap-dancing mice of “Morning Person” to the Broadway pizzazz of “Freak Flag” to the surprise get-up-and-boogie “Finale” that Monkees fans will recognize from its opening chords.
Tom Buderwitz’s three-dimensional scenic design is as gorgeous and fanciful as the best Disney or Pixar pic and Bergh’s multitude of fairytale costumes are among her very best and most imaginative, coordinated and executed for Moonlight by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd, and Carlotta Malone.
Jean-Yves Tessier’s vivid lighting design makes Buderwitz’s and Bergh’s creations look all the more gorgeous, while Chris Leussmann not only mixes orchestra and vocals to perfection, the sound designer sends out into the Moonlit skies a greater number of perfectly timed farts and burps than you’ve probably ever heard coming from a theater stage. (Fortunately, they are odorless.)
Co-musical director Kenneth Gammie conducts a pit orchestra every bit the equal of their Broadway counterparts, and along with co-musical director JD Dumas, ensures one stunning vocal after another.
Additional credits are shared by the tiptop team of properties coordinator Bonnie Durben, wig designer Peter Herman, makeup and prosthetics designer Denice Paxton, and many more.
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.
Stanley D. Cohen is stage manager. Anthony Carrasco and Sarah Ahlquist are assistant stage managers.
Grade-A family entertainment that adults may well enjoy even more than kids, Shrek The Musical is Moonlight Stage Productions at their most Shrektastic and Shrektacular.
Moonlight Stage Productions, 1200 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista.
August 23, 2105
Photos: Ken Jacques Photography