Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Shrek The Musical" a fun, high-energy show at Midland Center for the Arts

The fire-breathing Dragon (and its puppeteers) menace Donkey

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Tap-dancing rats. Rotating trees. A farting/belching contest. All our favorite fairytale characters side by side. A wise-ass donkey with semi dreadlocks. And a massive pink-hued dragon.

People...if you have kids, or there is still some kid left in you, hustle over to the Midland Center for the Arts to see its production of “Shrek The Musical.” It is fantastic. Brimming with high-octane energy and eye-popping color, fun one-liners for all ages, cultural references all over the place (from Nancy Kerrigan to classical ballet), sight/sound gags galore (the Lord’s CARRIAGE, when it backs up, goes “beep, beep, beep”), and all-heart with its message.

We went to the final dress rehearsal, with several youngsters of all ages in attendance. And ya know what....the ones around us never got restless or fell asleep. That is how fully detailed and wonderfully paced this production is, artfully directed by Bill Anderson Jr. There is simply not a dull moment.

Laura Brigham as Fiona and True Rogers as Shrek
While the colorful and inventive costumes and wigs were rented from a California company, the sets and dragon puppet are local.  The set design by Kristen O’Connor and Evan Lewis is simple but totally effective -- in the style of cardboard cutouts or storybook popups. 

At no point do the set pieces threaten to overpower the actors...a good thing... and they are nearly silent as they move on and off while the acting action continues. 

And the dragon puppet...well, we simply fell in love with it, and the massive singing voice of Dawn Inman behind it.

Speaking of impressive singing voices. This production has a plethora of them. True Rogers as Shrek, Laura Brigham as Princess Fiona, Manny Sandow as Donkey, the ensemble numbers.

And Dale Bills as the pint-sized Lord Farquaad! He acts and sings his entire role ON HIS KNEES, with tiny little legs attached to his waist. Little legs. Full size head. Quite a sight. 

Imagine the effort it takes to move and to get enough air in the lungs to sing. Yet he is the the most powerful projection and diction-perfect in the cast. Man, this guy knows how to nuance a song.

A particularly effective scene is Fiona as a youngster, teen and adult (played by Luca Jolly, Laurel Hammis and Brigham). We see them one at a time in their castle tower in “I Know It’s Today,” changing in age progression seamlessly until they all converge in a lovely, lovely trio.

While Anderson’s cast delivers 100 percent in itsacting abilities, always always in character with great facial expressions and lively body inflections, choreographer Kelli Jolly moves them well throughout in great dance numbers. By the way, we did a little counting. There are 31 cast members playing 42 roles, give or take. So it keeps them busy changing costumes and characters.

Gread sound from the pit as well via music director Jim Hohmeyer and his musicians.

“Shrek The Musical” came loaded with its clever script, enjoyable songs, and lovely message about not judging people by their looks and seeing famed fairytale characters in a new way. Midland’s production makes it shine all the more.

Performances are Sept. 20-21 and Sept. 26-28.

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