By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
A musical based on an animated film shouldn’t feel this timely.
But you can’t escape the echoes of the news when a host of refugees flood onto the stage of the Bowling Green Performing Arts Center. Yes, the refugees are a motley assortment of your favorite fairy tale characters. Still one feels the very real pang of people displaced. These refugees end up in a swamp, the home of the misanthropic ogre, Shrek, who wants no part of them.
“Shrek: The Musical” like its predecessors “Shrek” the movie and the original picture book by William Steig turns fairy tales on their heads. The show, directed by JoBeth Gonzalez, still delivers a happily-ever-after ending. Along the way there’s plenty of comic patter, tuneful melodies, dances, and a few heart-tugging moments.
“Shrek, the Musical,” Bowling Green High’s all-school musical, opens tonight (April 20) at 7 p.m. continuing Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the PAC.
The animated film really sets the bar for the cast and crew. Technical director Ryan Albrecht and his team capture the atmosphere and settings, and manage to make these shifts without interrupting the action. The dragon is a particularly nice piece of stage puppetry.
Justin McKenzie does a good job as the gruff Shrek. He shows that a lot of that grouchy exterior is an affectation. He lets the ogre gradually open up emotionally. That process begins with his relationship with Donkey played with a sure sense of comic timing by Josh Coleman, who is able to capture the antic spontaneity of Eddie Murphy from the movie without doing an imitation.
It’s when Shrek meets the Princess Fiona (Elaine Hudson) that he really opens up, until – this being a romantic comedy – there’s a misunderstanding that sends him back into his shell.
Hudson’s Fiona is spunky, very devoted to the myth of the princess, and quite demanding when things don’t go according to the fairy tale code. She also has her own secret curse to deal with.
Micah McKanna plays the primping despot Lord Farquaad as a fatuous fool. He wants to marry Fiona, not for love, but so he can become king. He even gets to lead the dance number “What’s Up Duloc?” That piece evokes Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler and Germany” from “The Producers.” And he does this all on his knees because Farquaad is very short of stature. (Spoiler alert: the curtain call has him at his full height towering over most of the rest of the cast.)
The songs, a hummable pastiche of contemporary show music, expand on the characters’ hopes and fears. The immediacy of the singing with a live orchestra is where live theater can top even an Oscar winning movie. In “I Think I Got You Beat” Fiona and Shrek try to outdo each other in how traumatic their lives have been, a contest that devolves into burps and farts. That shows them to be kindred spirits.
Coleman, backed by the Three Blind Mice (Kaitlyn Dorman, Natalie Carty, and Hudson Pendleton), calls to mind Barry White without slipping from his comic person on “Make a Move.” Olivia Strang as the voice of the dragon shows off powerful pipes, on “Forever.”
The mob of fairy tale characters, led by the Ginger Bread Man (Alex Bellavia), get the show’s signature tune, “Fly Your Freak Flag.” They finally realize they need to embrace what makes them different, even if it means Pinocchio (Ethan Brown) finally admits he’s made of wood. (For full cast listing see: http://bgindependentmedia.org/tickets-on-sale-for-bg-highs-production-of-shrek/)
They decide to rise up and take the action. That helps set up the fairy-tale ending with righteousness and love prevailing. Would that the nightly news provided such a satisfying conclusion.