Shrek the Musical opened this past weekend at the Artistry in Bloomington. It’s always nice to find a show you can recommend for families in the summertime. Sometimes they’re aimed at the younger end of theatergoing age like Stages, The Little Mermaid Jr.. Other times, as is the case with Shrek the Musical, the older you are the more enjoyment you are likely to get from it. Like much of the best family entertainment, Shrek plays on two levels. For kids, it’s a fun story with ogre’s, princesses,and dragons. For the adults, it has another level of humor in it’s clever song lyrics and it’s postmodern spin on the fairy tales of childhood. Some shows I get more excited about seeing than others and have to admit, this wasn’t registering high on the excitement level going in. But I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable a production it is. There were families in the audience as well as the usual sextigenarian and above set. My plus one for the day and I may have been the only two middle aged men without children in attendance, but I think it played just as well to us as it did to anyone. While a great show for families, which is great, I don’t think you need to have children in tow to have a blast with it.
Based on the Dreamworks Animation film and the book by William Steig it features a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori. It stays fairly faithful to the film if memory serves but with the addition of songs. Many of the new songs contains some very clever lyrics and a lot of the humor comes from the performance of the musical numbers. The production was directed by Angela Timberman who makes great use of the space at times having the performers enter through the aisles of the theatre and also using the curtain as a staging device, especially effective in the staging of a gag with the Pied Piper. The scenic design by Christopher Heilman was serviceable, but consisted mainly of flats that were lowered and raised. The true technical achievements were in the costumes by Khamphian Vang, hair & makeup by Britt Hilton and props by Katie Phillips. Heilman’s costumes for all of these fantastical characters were spot on and the solution to presenting a dragon was wonderfully realized. I’m not sure under which department Pinocchio’s nose fell but it created one of those moments in live theater where you ask yourself “How did they do that?!”.
All the costumes, wigs, and makeup in the world would not be enough if you didn’t have a cast up to the task of portraying the likes of Shrek, Donkey, and dozens of storybook icons. Artistry has a cast well up to the task. Quinn Forrest Masterson, Kevin Brown Jr., and Deidre Cochran as Shrek, Donkey and Fiona are all well cast. Each recognizably realizes the characters we know and love, but they stop short of doing impersonations of the performers who made them famous. Some other favorites for me were Jon Michael Stiff for his hilarious interpretation of Lord Farquaad. It’s the characterization that seems the most removed from the film version, but in a way that improves on the role. Neal Beckman’s Pinocchio was hilarious a combination of the classic wooden boy we know but channeled through Emo Philips. Janely Rodriguez as the dragon was fantastic, and her singing voice made me wish she had another song in the show, possibly the best voice in the cast and we get far too little of it. Finally, I got a kick out of all of Jay Albrights roles, Papa Orge, Captain of the Guard, and the Bishop. His deadpan delivery particularly as the Captain of the guard, was study in restraint and perfect timing.
Shrek the Musical runs through August 14th at Artistry in Bloomington for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://artistrymn.org/shrek.
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