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NY Theater Reviews

Brian d'Arcy James/PH: Sara Krulwich



Shrek the Musical is an entertaining high energy show, filled with upbeat songs, upbeat cast and upbeat message.

Based on the much-loved 2001 animated film, Shrek the Musical is a massive, expensive production that boasts a big cast, impressive sets, witty costumes, and pleasant though not terribly memorable songs. Unlike the movie, this Dreamworks Theatricals extravaganza isn't what one would call charming. But like the movie, the musical adaptation is often quite funny. It also has a terrific cast stacked with Broadway pros. Critics can carp all they want, but the stage Shrek should prove popular with its target audience: kids.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) wrote the book and lyrics, and he doesn't stray too far from the movie's script. Shrek (Brian d'Arcy James) is a green ogre with a frightening face that masks a sweet disposition. When a horde of fairy-tale characters move into his swamp, Shrek complains to the diminutive Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber). Shrek is promised the deed to the swamp if he brings back Farquaad's bride-to-be, Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster). Shrek takes along a new friend, Donkey (Daniel Breaker), and during the trip Shrek and Fiona hit it off-in part because they share a talent for farting and burping.

The story has stayed more or less the same, but on Broadway the characters frequently break into song and dance. Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change) wrote the music, and she mixes ballads with bouncy ensemble numbers. The fairy-tale characters, led by the squeaky-voiced Pinocchio (John Tartaglia), get to let loose in "Story of My Life" and "Freak Flag." Sieber hams it up divinely in "What's Up, Duloc?" (His kneepads must get a workout, since the actor spends almost the entire show on his knees as the shrimpy Farquaad Tim Hatley designed his amusing costumes, from the Prince Valiant wig to the fake stubby legs.) And the always reliable Foster shows off her powerful voice in "I Know It's Today" and later tap-dances in the peppy "Morning Person."

At times the show comes on too strong, as in the strident, big-belting Act I finale "Who I'd Be." This is one show that never heard of the adage less is more. Director Jason Moore, choreographer Josh Prince, and the rest of the creative team try anything and everything to win over both kids and musical buffs: The kids get fart jokes and an enormous dragon -theater types get jokey references to earlier megamusicals like Wicked and The Lion King.

Shrek the Musical probably won't be as big a smash as those family-friendly blockbusters, but it's an entertaining, high-energy show with upbeat songs as well as an uplifting message about loving yourself no matter what you look like. Hatley's ingenious sets, costumes, and puppets are often funny in themselves, yet they never upstage the dynamite cast. James sings beautifully and does a nice knockoff of Mike Meyers' Scottish brogue from the film -Foster belts, taps, and even burps with aplomb -Sieber is priceless, milking his jokes and making the most of his ridiculous costumes- Breaker is smoothly winning as Donkey and Tartaglia makes a likable, loose-limbed Pinocchio.

William Steig, the cartoonist who wrote the 1990 fairy tale Shrek! and died in 2003 at age 95, would probably be amazed that his book has spawned such a lavish musical. Even if he found it a bit bloated, he would no doubt be happy that his characters, the message, and the humor remain.