Shrek The Musical Rocks Portland
by Brit McGinnis
How do you translate a hugely commercially successful movie, into a stage production that is equally effective at reaching people?
It helps if the main character’s a mouthy green ogre.
In Shrek The Musical, directed by Stephen Sposito, the audience is told how Shrek the ogre made his way to his beloved swamp, and why Princess Fiona needed rescuing from her tower. The characters in this Broadway musical are more complicated, and the story more compelling.
The show is rife with strong performances. Merritt David Janes plays the evil Lord Farquaad à la Roger De Bris of The Producers — a flamboyant Broadway fan who wants the show to go exactly his way. Liz Shivener is a feisty but frail Fiona who, unlike her film counterpart, isn’t afraid to show some of the psychological strain of being locked in a tower for 20 years. HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9" André Jordan is a charming Donkey, belting it out on solos like “Make A Move.” As for Shrek himself, Lukas Poost plays the ogre with clear passion, adding depth to songs like “Who I’d Be,” which easily could turn into a cheesy power ballad.
Shrek actively parodies classic Broadway shows, from The Lion King to Les Miserables. This is where the production’s true appeal lies — it continues the original story’s pattern of mocking its peers. As a fairy tale-turned-movie, Shrek made fun of classic fairy tale films with its dramatically drawn castles and Matrix-style fight scenes. As a Broadway show, Shrek also mocks the culture of storytelling through which it is now being told. This leads to occasional strokes of brilliance, such as the portrayal of the dragon Dragon as an R&B-style diva (sung by Kelly Teal Goyette) who keeps unlucky knights captive — but only if they can sing backup. The Three Blind Mice are now sultry cane dancers with Chorus Line charm.
The creative forces behind Shrek seem to be comfortable with the audience seeing the technical, real-world elements of the fairy tale musical’s production. Costumes such as that of the Ugly Duckling show the actors’ faces in a storybook theatre-like fashion. Donkey stands on his hind legs throughout most of the show. Puppeteers, though entirely clothed in black, are plainly visible to the audience. These revelations don’t jolt the audience back to reality, but add an element of the uncanny that is lovely to see in both fairy tales and live theater.
This show is not for younger children, as evidenced by the crying toddler who was carried out after Dragon’s first appearance. Kids ages 12 and up should be okay with this version of Shrek — old enough to understand the more witty humor as well and not be frightened by roaring ogres.
Overall, Shrek has the organic charm only a cast working well in sync with each other can produce. Best are the moments when the actors relax into their roles and genuinely play with each other — air guitar in the enchanted forest, anyone? They seem to be having fun throughout, and this radiates out to the audience. With passionate performances and a healthy dose of snark, Shrek delivers a magically great time.
Shrek The Musical is at Keller Auditorium through Sept. 18; tickets at 503-241-1802.