What you need to know about Shrek: The Musical: Children will absolutely love it—and adults, there are plenty of jokes for you, too. At one point, Pinocchio bemoans, “This is worse than the time I caught Dutch Elm Disease in Tijuana.” Another song lyric rhymes “grotesque” with “Kafkaesque.” There are references to Scientology, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, The Stepford Wives, the Budweiser Clydesdales and many other pop culture staples. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the musical, combined with the exuberance of this production’s cast, makes for a fun and entertaining performance.
The house was packed on the opening night of the show. The energy was vibrant and when the stage lights went up and the live—yes, live music!—started, it was apparent the audience was in for a treat.
For those who haven’t seen the 2001 animated Dreamworks version, or read the original children’s book (by William Steig) upon which both the movie and the musical are based, the plot of Shrek is about an outcast ogre (the titular character) whose swamp is invaded by a host of fairytale characters: Peter Pan, the Mad Hatter, the three bears from Goldilocks and the Big Bad Wolf, among others. The evil Lord Farquaad has banished all the “freaks” from the city of Duloc, where he rules. A furious Shrek, who just wants to be left alone, journeys to Duloc and, along the way, meets a talking donkey that travels with him. Lord Farquaad informs Shrek he can have his swamp back, but first he must free Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded castle. Without spoiling anything, Fiona has more in common with Shrek than he knows, and in the end he realizes having friends isn’t so bad, after all.
The costumes, sets and props are fantastically well done, giving the production texture and a sense of being real. Pinocchio’s nose extends every time he lies. The gingerbread man is cleverly adhered to a baking sheet and the actor who voices him moves his mouth, through some magic of puppetry, when he shouts, “Not my gumdrop buttons!” Speaking of puppets, the dragon guarding the castle is magnificent—huge, with eyes that move, giant spikes protruding from its head and long, glittering eyelashes. There’s something delightfully kooky about a full-grown man dressed in a donkey costume belting out “I like a big, big girl!” to a dragon puppet.
And that’s what makes this show so successful: The cast has thrown themselves into their roles and are clearly having so much fun. And their voices—how can they sing for more than two hours and not get hoarse? Fiona sounds just as clear and on-key in the last song as she does in the first. Lord Farquaad chews up the scenery, in a good way, every time he’s on stage. One of the best songs in the production is the “Ballad of Farquaad,” in which Lord Farquaad sings about his difficult relationship with his father, Grumpy. Yes, that Grumpy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. “Me and my old man / A tale as old as dirt / A bitter distant father / In a tiny undershirt.”
This is a musical adaptation that makes sense. Even if musical theater isn’t your thing, the silliness inherent in the story of Shrek removes the heavy sentimentality from lyrics like “We’d share a kiss, I’d find my destiny / I’d have a hero’s ending, a perfect happy ending.” When they’re sung by a man in green facepaint with green horns protruding from his head and a large, fake belly, you smile instead of squirm.
For the finale, the cast empties off the stage and into the aisles to sing Neil Diamond’s (not, ahem, Smash Mouth’s) “I’m a Believer,” which was chosen specifically for the lyric, “I thought love was only true in fairytales.” It’s a fitting ending to an irreverent, totally weird and wonderful show.