By Brian Coatney
What is it in fairy tales about turning 7 years old? An ogre is sent off into the woods, and a princess is confined to a tower. The ogre, Shrek, ends up in a swamp, loving its privacy and even later wanting to build a 10-foot wall around it when he has ventured love and apparently been mocked for his risk. Meanwhile, Princess Fiona lives in isolation awaiting her prince and true love, who will cross the lava moat and get past the dragon.
Campanile Productions is presenting “Shrek the Musical” this weekend at the Alhambra Theatre.
Like the movie, Shrek doesn’t want to let anyone in, not even the colorful cast of fairy tale characters. Fiona would love some company but can only look out her window and dream. Perhaps at the fragile age of 7, a person is already locked into a delusion of what normal is. Others seem normal, and so the tendency is to ally with those who can be rebels against the cruelty of normal.
What a band the fairy tale characters are. Tyrannical Lord Farquaad has banished them from the palace and Duloc because no freaks will do, only regimented, dress-coded mimics. This comic bunch includes many of our childhood favorites: Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Fairy Godmother, Three Blind Mice, the Ugly Duckling, Peter Pan, the Three Bears, Sugar Plum Fairy and Humpty Dumpty. These loveables are marvelously costumed and entertainingly vocal as they move about the stage. I obviously can’t name all the cast here, but they are all splendid.
Alan Mckee plays a shrill Pinocchio who steps up to help lead them. Lord Farquaad doesn’t want them, and Shrek considers them an invasion to his swamp. What will they do?
Speaking of Lord Farquaad, Jeff Riggs plays the prissy, narcissistic character to the hilt, skillfully making Lord Farquaad the epitome of a repulsive control freak.
The palace is a fantastic set. Kudos to the set designers, and the guards play their drone role with all the rhythmic monotony of normal, whereas the brightly uniformed Duloc Dancers flash forth big smiles in red, yellow, and blue — with lively dance routines.
Lord Farquaad needs a queen but will foist the dangers of obtaining one upon some poor citizen, except that Shrek appears.
John McDonald plays a wonderful Shrek. He has the size, the bit of gravel in his voice, the accent and the emotional richness to play a role that demands versatility. He comes across not as polished vocally but certainly way better than Bob Dylan.
The Donkey, now he’s a case. Seth Brewer revels in this role, and one would be hard pressed to find a more perfect donkey — plus he can really sing. His facial expressions are wry but affectionate. He is the consummate, loyal friend, even if he is, well, a donkey.
Shrek and Donkey make their way along, having been conscripted into rescuing Fiona, which Shrek accomplishes with all due non-flare and with unintentional flouting of all conventions that a newly rescued princess would expect.
The three Fionas are all a delight, from Amelia King to Brynn Greene to Melanie Ozburn. All three sing wonderful numbers, and when the three appear together, their harmony is stunning.
The story turns on the adult Fiona, and Melanie Ozburn has just the voice and wit for the role. She and Shrek play off of each other in a sensational way, and Donkey of course is his usual catalyst self in the mix. The romance, gone awry by Shrek’s mistaken take on Fiona’s words to Donkey, is heartrending even if you know the story.
The play specializes in uncomfortable emotions, even when viewers already know a happy ending will ensue. That’s the mark of a great story; it gets you every time.
Many other Kudos are worthy of mention. I dread omission but have to take the chance and mention only a few. My favorite number by far is “I think I Got You Beat.” This is a classic. How could Broadway do it better? Annisa Whitlock’s powerful and commanding vocals in tandem with Donkey, combined with the awesome dragon, the skeletons and the knights made for a smashingly amazing scene.
The Three Blind Mice in white apparel with dark shades added a great touch, and the tapping rats scene was brilliant.
So many cast members played multiple roles and deserve credit. Riley Fort was one of those. If there were a spirit award for those who played multiple roles, she would be hard to beat, though with some stiff competition from Brandy Westerfield.
The choreography was so much fun, thanks to Anna Beth Riggs. I see she has left medical studies for a theater degree. Oh well, that may mean the life of a poorer artist, but who knows.
The cast was flawless with prop movement and transitions. To reflect on the sets, the costumes, the props, the choreography and the talent is to marvel at the depth and commitment of Campanile in a production like this. Not only is Shrek a masterful piece of work, it is a story of local artists having the opportunity to sign up, learn, grow, perform and have an incredible experience together. Thank you once again, Campanile.