Big, bright beautiful beginning for ‘Shrek’

  • Wednesday, September 17, 2008 6:55pm
  • Life

Shrek

Look out, Simba, there’s an ogre coming your way.

With the opening of “Shrek the Musical” in its pre-Broadway engagement at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, DreamWorks Theatricals is ready to face off against Disney not only onscreen, but also onstage.

It’s the first theatrical venture for DreamWorks, a company that’s already won acclaim and an Academy Award with its original “Shrek” movie.

And the musical is as big and beautiful as any “Shrek” fan could have hoped, with gorgeous scenery, tunes that stick in your head, and … naturally, a happy ending.

I went to see “Shrek the Musical” with varied expectations. I was ready for something good, but prepared for the fact it wouldn’t be the same “Shrek” I already knew and loved. I was willing to accept the stage-Shrek for what he was, even if that wasn’t the lovable green ogre voiced by Mike Myers.

And then Shrek himself burst out of his onstage outhouse, and I forgot all my expectations.

It was Shrek. Huge and clumsy, speaking in his familiar Scottish brogue and looking larger and greener than life, actor Brian d’Arcy James was Shrek. THE Shrek. The one we all fell in love with on the screen. And I loved him immediately.

And if Shrek was all I could have hoped for, Lord Farquaad was even better than I’d hoped. Actor Christopher Sieber played the diminutive, order-obsessed lord of Duloc with the help of a specialized costume and – I hope – really good knee pads. Sieber acted through the entire show on his knees, with a set of costume legs that attached to the front of his knees, and a cape to hide his own legs, so that he appeared to be about 3 feet tall.

Christopher Sieber dancing with his spindly undersized legs was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

DreamWorks Theatricals did a fantastic job translating the animated fairytale world to the stage. The scenery was gorgeous. The original songs were memorable, and for the most part hit exactly the right tone to carry the story, which came across virtually intact from screen to stage.

The only major change made for the musical version was the addition of backstories for Shrek, Fiona and Lord Farquaad.

We see Shrek cast out of his parents’ house at the age of 7 with the admonition that it’s a “Big Bright Beautiful World” out there … just not for ogres.

We witness Fiona in the tower – which floats up through a sea of mist – as she changes from bright-eyed, fairytale-believing little girl (played by Keaton Whittaker) to a slightly neurotic (but still hopeful) young woman (Sutton Foster).

And we hear from Lord Farquaad’s own lips all about his unhappy childhood and dreams of grandeur.

My only complaint about the show was the amount of body humor it used. For instance, one of the most poignant moments in the musical comes right before a belching and farting match between Shrek and Fiona (which was still funny, even if it was gross).

To be fair, I had the same complaint about the movie, so I can’t say I was caught by surprise. I’d just hoped that the play would tone down the teenage-boy, fart-joke element, and instead it played that up more even than the movie had.

Then again, after seeing some of the shockingly explicit innuendoes of Shakespeare plays, I’d have to say I’d rather have the fart jokes.

So it wasn’t always pretty, but as Shrek himself pointed out, “beautiful isn’t always pretty.” And it was a beautiful show.

The show’s run in Seattle ends Sunday. After that, it’ll be up to the audience in New York to determine whether or not a big green ogre has a place on the stage. As for me, I think I smell a happy ending for DreamWorks’ first musical.

For more information about “Shrek the Musical,” see the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Web site at www.5thavenue.org, or visit www.shrekthemusical.com.

Contact staff writer Christine Shultz at 253-872-6600, ext. 5056 or cshultz@reporternewspapers.com.


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