Moonlight Stage Productions are no strangers to presenting musical adaptations of popular movies. In the last several years, the company has produced Mary Poppins, Catch Me if You Can and Mel Brooks’ Young Franeknstein. This trend continues at the Moonlight Amphitheatre with the family friendly Shrek: The Musical.
Based on the Oscar winning animated comedy, the fantasy follows a short-tempered ogre, Shrek (T.J. Dawson), who wants to live alone in his swamp. After fairy tale creatures, including Pinocchio (Jake Saenz) and Peter Pan (David Jessie Sherlock), are forced to live in Shrek’s swamp against their will, he along with his new friend, Donkey (Cornelius Jones, Jr.), finds the evil man who banished the characters to his abode, Lord Farquaad (Marc Ginbsburg).
Farquaad cuts a deal with Shrek. The ruler tells him that the citizens can return to their homes if he rescues a beautiful princess, Fiona (Michelle London), from a dangerous tower. Farquaad wants to marry Fiona, but unfortunately for him, Shrek also develops feelings for the captive.
Director and choreographer, David F.M. Vaughn, co-starred in the first national tour as Farquaad, directed the musical for 3-D Theatricals and is featured as an ensemble member in a filmed performance with the Broadway leads, Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster.
It would be an understatement to say that he is familiar with the material and he gets the look just right with lavish dancing and grand staging on Tom Buderwitz’s epic set.
Kate Bergh’s costumes and puppets from Christian Anderson and Derek Lux are directly inspired by the silver screen hit, which should delight those familiar with the narrative. The designs also work on a deeper level, because they help develop a message about not judging anyone based on appearance. Even a fire breathing Dragon (Janay Byrd) never conforms to a simple stereotype.
David Lindsy-Abaire’s book follows the structure of the motion picture closely and incorporates dialogue from the famous adventure. Although there are flashes of the playwright’s wit in the spoken sections, his strongest contributions are the words to the many musical numbers.
Songs from composer, Jeannie Tesoir and lyricist Lindsay-Abaire, are full of ironic jokes that play around with associations to children’s stories. During the tunes “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag,” the artists cleverly humanize recognizable fairytale personalities, which makes them just as sympathetic as the three heroes of the tale.
Not all their tunes are purely humorous. A standout number right before intermission is the invigorating “Who I’d Be” which deals with Shrek’s desire to have a better life than his former lonely one. Dawson, London and Jones, Jr. harmonize with powerful emotion and the orchestra led by Kenneth Gammie help end Act 1 on a high note.
The leads play their early scenes with loose and goofy energy. Yet, they know when to add just the right amount of drama so that viewers take them seriously. Because of this, the dramatic sequences feel earned instead of tacked on.
Anyone playing the heartless antagonist, Farquaad, needs to chew a lot of scenery and Ginsburg gleefully mugs every chance he can get. He has two big showstoppers and the ability to fashion lines, that might not appear funny on paper, uproarious. Ginsburg makes every scene he is in count.
Shrek: The Musical does not disappoint, but a few audio issues on opening night need to be corrected. Chris Luessmann’s immersive work unfortunately suffered from occasional hiccups. Dawson had some miking trouble, which was temporarily noticeable; and immediately before the conclusion, a cast member was momentarily heard talking backstage with their mic on. Luessmann will likely figure out a way to make sure the situation does not become a reoccurring problem.
There are endless references to pop culture ranging from “It’s a Small World” to Donald Trump. Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting wittily honors Wicked during the grand ending of “What’s Up, Duloc?” While the majority of the laughs land, there are some out of place tributes to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” that come across as completely random and pointless. Since these examples last only a couple of seconds, it takes away very little from the overall experience.
Whether a viewer has watched “Shrek” too many times to count or if one has never seen the adventure before, the show provides hilarity for “ogres of all ages.” That is as long as they are not injured by the show tune singing dragon during the evening.