by Terrance Mc Arthur
I keep trying to write a clever opening for my review of the Selma Arts Foundation production of Shrek the Musical, but I can’t seem to come up with anything. Instead, I’ll tell you the truth—the show is funny, the production really works, the cast is energetic and impressive, and you’ll be glad you went. I know that’s not an exciting way to review a play, but that’s what I’ve got.
In 1990, children’s-book writer/illustrator William Steig published Shrek, an anti-fairy-tale of a book about a disagreeable ogre. In 2001, Dreamworks released a computer-animated film loosely inspired by the book. In 2008, a stage-musical version reached Broadway, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (Pulitzer-winning play Rabbit Hole) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Tony-winning musical Fun Home). The show follows the movie story most of the time, and the script now manages to include one popular song from the film soundtrack for fans of the animated version.Shrek (Daniel Sutherland), an ogre, kicked out by his parents when he was seven, lives in a swamp. When a “short”-tempered nobleman (Bryan DeBaets) dumps the land’s fairy-tale creatures in his yard, Shrek gets him to promise to evict the displaced persons if he rescues Princess Fiona (Taylor Delgado) from a tower guarded by a dragon (Julie Valdez on vocals, and a team of puppet-wranglers). Followed, if not aided, by a talking Donkey (Adam Chavez), he rescues Fiona (locked in the tower from the age of seven) and changes his life.
Don’t arrive expecting Michael Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow imitations. This production has its own characterizations (and I always had trouble with the Scottish burr Meyers used). Sutherland is strong, bemused and righteously indignant, and a few R’s are rolled. His large-and-in-charge presence has enlivened a number of GCP productions, and it’s good to see him in a leading role.
Delgado makes a strong-willed Fiona, burdened with unrealistic romantic expectations from years of isolation with the medieval equivalent of Harlequin Romance novels. Great singing, good movement, and killer comedic timing, especially opposite Sutherland in the funniest gas-passing sequence since the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.DeBaets is a major-league hoot as Lord Farquaad, an upward-climbing royal wannabe, doing horrible things to his knees. He’s pompous, diabolical, and side-splittingly funny. One of the delights of the musical is finally finding out why Farquaad is the way he is. Chavez is a motor-mouthed smart-donkey in a costume that must make it difficult to use hands inside the hooves.
Valdez unleashes her bad self as the love struck dragon pining for Donkey. Her voice fits the puppet’s image, and the puppet crew toils mightily to fit the words. Kimberly Houston built the creature, and it works.
The chorus/background players are a lively crew. The Pinocchio nose Caleb Robbins wears actually grows. Peter Allen as a Big Bad Wolf who enjoyed dressing as Grandma doesn’t need to talk or move to make me laugh. Kevin Carrillo pushes Peter Pan into the too-perky-for-words realm. The DY.NAM.IX dance group, which provided backup for the Creature in Selma’s Young Frankenstein, taps their way across the stage as a pack of rats bedeviling a piper. Michael Argain is no-nonsense as the Captain of the Guards, and Cady Mejias ably operates the puppet of Gingy, the Gingerbread Man.
It’s all funny and silly, yet it teaches us to accept ourselves for what we are, and that there is value to everyone. Shrek plays through May 7 at the Selma Arts Center in downtown Selma (1935 High St). Tickets can be purchased online at www.tickettomato.com or at the Selma Arts Center.
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