Shrek the Musical
Broadway Theatre, New York
Shrek is by far “the greenest” show on Broadway, said Simon Houpt in the Toronto Globe and Mail. And not just because of the “Key lime” skin of the eponymous ogre. The first Broadway production from movie studio DreamWorks practices a form of artistic “environmentalism”—recycling characters and plot from its hit film franchise, itself based on a William Steig book. To its credit, DreamWorks doesn’t only rip off itself. Just as the films revel in “cheeky tweaking” of Disney-style fairy tales, Shrek the Musical pokes fun at its theatrical competitors, “spoofing the hoofers of A Chorus Line, the witches of Wicked, Gypsy’s Mama Rose, and many other musicals.”
All those winking in-jokes can’t obscure a “shortage of real inspiration in the show itself,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. No one expects Shrek to be grand opera. But “we can be forgiven for expecting more than a paint-by-numbers fractured fairy tale” when the lyrics are written by Pulitzer-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and the music by Jeanine Tesori. Tim Hatley’s overstuffed sets and clever costumes amuse with their “cartoon-medieval drollery.” Unfortunately, the awkward fact that Shrek’s characters include ogres and donkeys requires the “extraordinary cast” to perform in elaborate get-ups that often hinder their comic pacing. Christopher Sieber plays the pint-size villain, Farquaad, entirely from his knees. In the title role, Brian d’Arcy James somehow proves “deeply endearing” despite booming his songs out from beneath “plunger ears and a Cyrano nose.”
On a few occasions, the elaborate make-believe does beguile, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. At others, the characters’ plastic prostheses reminded me of “out-of-work actors dressed up as tacos and French fries in a mall food court.” Shrek the Musical never quite shakes the impression that it’s an elaborate bit of marketing for—well, itself. The real reason to go see this “cavalcade of storybook effigies” is Sutton Foster, who plays Princess Fiona. Foster’s become the single most “inspired, take-charge” musical comedienne currently working, and her farting contest with d’Arcy James—set to a song called “I Think I Got You Beat”—finally brings the show to life about halfway through. Then she belts out the hilarious “Morning Person” with a fire that seems to both “make fun of and exult in” everything that’s most gloriously silly about Broadway. “No wonder Shrek falls in love with her.”
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