Wednesday, July 16, 2014


By C. W. Walker, Correspondent 4 PM EDT July 11, 2014
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Shrek Photos 362.jpg

Shrek: The Musical, based on the highly successful 2001 animated film from DreamWorks, barely survived a year on Broadway. It hard to say why: the show had a first-rate cast including Brian D’Arcy James and Sutton Foster in the leads. It earned decent reviews and received eight Tony nominations, winning for Best Costume Design.

Fortunately, Shrek: The Musical has found a new, vigorous and well-deserved second life in community, regional and high school theaters. It’s a fun show: hip and sassy, with humor that can be rude and even a little crude (competitive flatulence, anyone?) which is probably why audiences—especially younger ones—enjoy it so much.

It’s also a complicated show to do, filled with elaborate costumes and special effects, and the gung-ho cast and crew at Middlesex County Plays-in-the-Park (PIP) are certainly working hard (above) to deliver this second production of the season. Even though PIP obviously doesn’t have anywhere near a Broadway budget, this Shrek comes complete with a colorful swamp, a castle, a tower, a magic mirror, a talking Gingy, the gingerbread boy, and a 20-foot puppet dragon. Sometimes there are slip-ups in timing or a scramble to manage the elaborate make-up, but no doubt that will smooth out as the run continues. And you have to hand it to director Moggie Davis and the PIP folks for even attempting such show.

The musical stage version follows closely the story of the original animated film. Shrek is a cranky ogre with a Scottish accent who lives in a swamp (complete with smelly outhouse) just outside of Duloc, a magical fairy tale kingdom that bears a suspicious resemblance to Disneyland. Duloc is ruled by a tyrannical—and very short—Lord Farquaad. In order to create the most perfect place on earth, Farquaad evicts all the maladjusted fairy folk, including the three very German little pigs and their friend, the cross-dressing wolf; a 34-year-old Peter Pan; a sarcastic witch; a fairy godmother with a broken wand, and Pinocchio, who acts as leader of the group and is in heavy denial that he is a wooden puppet and not a real live boy.

In order to get his swamp back, Shrek must rescue a princess trapped, Rapunzel-like, in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. His only weapon is a wise-cracking donkey who serves as buddy material and aggressive comedy relief. Needless to say, the princess and the ogre fall for each other, but in this fractured fairy tale, the transformative power of love doesn’t quite operate the way we might imagine. In fact, very little proceeds without a little twist, a little tweak to our expectations.

The filmed Shrek was a sly satire of Disney. For the stage version, Disney is still a target (watch for refugee characters from The Lion King) but there are also references to other popular family-friendly musicals stuffed into the narrative including Wicked and Les Miserables. The PIP company even kids itself, inserting jokes about their other productions for this season.

All in all, it’s a jolly affair, well sung and well performed. If you missed Shrek on Broadway, this cast does well enough as a reasonable substitute. Michael McEntee, under heavy pea-green make-up, sings strongly in the title role. Katherine LeFevre’s princess nicely balances beauty and spunkiness. Timothy Walton, more Cab Calloway than Eddie Murphy as Donkey, and Bill Geltzeiler as the high-pitched, anxiety-prone Pinocchio both offer hilarious support. But the real casting coup is Dan Thomas Cook, who strikes just the right note of campy petulance as the insecure Lord Farquaad. He’s also a real trooper, performing most of the show on his knees. Between acts, take a look at the photos of the cast in the program: you’ll barely recognize them in their human form.

Choreographer Michele Mosey keeps everyone moving while Mike D’Arcy has designed a sophisticated set complete with runway. Warren Helms serves as musical director and conducts the full and very competent orchestra we’ve come to expect at Middlesex PIP.

Shrek: The Musical continues performances at 8:30 PM nightly except Sundays through July 19 at the Stephen J. Capestro Amphitheater, 1 Pine Drive in Roosevelt Park, Edison