Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Shrek The Musical": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ PLUS! BANG BANG

In the interest of full disclosure, may it be admitted here that this reviewer is one of the few people in America who has never seen a Shrek movie, knew nothing about the story in advance and went to the show only because it is his job. He figured it would be Green Disney and he'd be miserable by intermission.

He also didn't know that "Shrek," the original children's story, was written in 1990 by William Steig, who wrote so many of the reviewer's favorite children's books, including "The Amazing Bone," that he just happens to know backwards and forwards.

So, Shrekky, move over because this dude is jumping on the bandwagon. "Shrek, the Musical" is one of the finest adaptations we have ever seen and without question one of the best shows of the year. It has everything for everybody. The kids in the audience were jumping with the high energy music, the adults were laughing their heads off and the characters on stage seemed to be having the times of their lives. What a tour de force.

To start with, Shrek himself (Eric Petersen), encased in a fat suit with green makeup, makes his ogre with the heart of green into a loveable everyday guy with a Scottish accent and a voice that can break hearts as well as knock over buildings. His counterpart, Princess Fiona (Haven Burton), plays it for laughs and gets them. Her character is more in line with, say, the heroine in The Wiz, which is to say witty, perky and a wise-ass. She is also a great comic and her voice can (and does) break bird's eggs. Petersen and Burton are the perfect once animated-now real stage couple.

The sidemen are, if possible, even better. David F.M. Vaughn's Lord Farquaad, played on his knees to make him seriously short stuff, is absolute genius. We laugh every time he hunches across the stage. By the end of the show he has become totally fey, bringing no end of joy to the audience, but this is in the Steig tradition, which is to say adult comedy that sails happily above kids' heads. What children love is Farquaad's harmless venom and grand comedy.

They also L-O-V-E the fart song. (We did too.)

Don't forget Pinocchio (Blakely Slaybaugh). Does Blakely Slaybaugh have knees? And that dragon. How in the world do they do that?

You won't see better and more creative staging anywhere. Tim Hatley won a Tony for his costuming and it's easy to see why. You need to see this show, friends. We've got to keep Pinocchio working.


This is a Five Star Show with a Five Star Cast, Five Star Staging and Costuming and maybe even Five Star lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire -- but you'll notice Four Stars Plus. Look, everyone can't be Leonard Bernstein but we just saw West Side Story. Jeanine Tesori's music is meant for children, so it is simple to a fault. But the songs are still head and shoulders above the drek you find in 90% of adult musicals and 100% better than Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Sorry, Little Mermaid, but Shrek eats your lunch. Fabulous songs, both innovative and touching, include "Big, Bright Beautiful World," "Story of My Life," "Who I'd Be," "I Think I've Got You Beat," and the very beautiful "When Words Fail."

Give us "When You Wish Upon a Star" and you've got Star Five.

The first BANGLE of PRAISE is for the rats. You'll see. And the second is for Farquaad. David F.M. Vaughn is amazing.

This reviewer realizes he must find fault or else he will lose his Frequent Whiner Card, so let's say that the donkey (Allen Mingo Jr.) is so stereotypically Mammy-black as to make us vaguely uncomfortable. It is probably a good sign that only the aging liberals in the crowd kind of gritted our teeth when the donkey followed his directorial orders, probably to be 'cute.' We hear Eddie Murphy does the same thing, playing the donkey's voice in the movies. Maybe he does. Just sayin'.

Go see Shrek. And don't be embarrassed when you fall in love with this production, like the five year old in front of us who never sat down for two and a half hours. It's that exciting.

"Shrek The Musical"
Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market Street (at Grove Street), San Francisco
Through Jan. 2

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