Cold and colder with the air pulling all hairs in goose-slapping fashion. Fog machines at the ready, the clouds and fairy tales are on for a song and "Once upon a time..." starts us off. In shadow of course. The parents of Shrek and Princess Fiona sing to their kids with a cast over their faces due to the cut of the spotlights. Fearsome undertones of fairy tales never die.
Shrek: The Musical hews close to the Dreamworks film. Or as near as never watching it in a complete sitting will attest to. Puss in Boots one of a few things excised when crossing over to the stage, merely a passing reference as the ogre and his ass pass through the forest on their way to rescue the redhead as they sing "Travel Song".
It's the age old story of a land owner who has to fight against the ivory tower to win back the peace and kick out all the fresh off the book immigrants come invading his swamp. A true tale for our ever xenophobic times with the rendition of children nothing out of the ordinary.
Old Princess Fiona (Liz Shivener) counts at day 8400 and some in the tower. The first read through of the fairy tale library as a little girl (Maggie Tompkins), she is only 7, 26 days into the towering wait. Only three years later in her tween years (Schuyler Midgett) pining for the happy ending. All up it's a 23 year wait with no facilities, but plenty of books and a mysterious tailor sending up new dress sizes, but never a ladder or a key. That's quite the stain to scale along the tower's side. And a neat overlay as all three sing "I Know It's Today" in concert with the fog machine choking thick.
You know how Lord Farquaad is built in his 4 foot frame, but you don't actually notice it for all his conniving and flamboyant ways. Absolute delicious wickedness in how Merritt David Janes prances about in his illegitimate run to reign Duloc.
Pinocchio (Luke Yellin) has an annoying shriek of a voice. A voice that lacks a certain timbre you expect from singing with wood made vocal chords. The screech actually has more of a "wet sponge jerking a cotton string" tonality. His nose also gets worn out for all the rubbing from the lies and not-so-truths.
A lithe, dashing swirl of its own, the dragon is a marvelous, graceful act floating across the stage with those puppeteers working maniacally to keep up with her anger and excitement. It's quite limber for the sheer stage presence. There's nothing subtle about a wink you can hear.
Missing out on some click-clacking? Fret not and lean your ears on the rat-pelted tap dance number. A tight minute or two with Princess Fiona and a bunch of rodents showing up the Pied Piper, unable to play a siren song with his limp flute.
If you're in the mood for fart jokes and burps, you'll have to do with recorded expulsions. The brown note sound-off a hollow, pants-left-dry experience of pull-my-finger and whatnot. Admittedly, burping on cue is far easier than blowing one out the other end. And jousting for that can only leave your anus sore and chapped.
The art of misdirection and stage throwing is at a high point in this production. The graceful transition of Princess Fiona across the years working against a privacy screen is smooth. Another moment later on catches you off guard and leaves a smile on your face when you realise another change-up has come and gone and you're left counting back the minutes to see where their hand was leading the ploy. Only to realise the switch happens yet again and you're there staring at the mouth of Gingy the Gingerbread Man (Midgett in a triplicate role with Sugar Plum) so plastered on that baking sheet like an angry drunk.
It's a battle between Donkey (André Jordan) and Lord Farquaad for who really steals it. Their sharp chewing deliveries catching a chunky portion of the musical's laughs. Shrek (Lukas Poost) is the straight man and the clothes horse you see the best jokes drape over and never from. Donkey doth overfloweth with sass, enthusiasm and a nuclear reactor spillover that never stops its rampant leakage from curtain draw to final number belt out. Stick a needle in him and drain it out, the stuff running in his ass blood is more potent than crunching handfuls of caffeine pills laced with meth.
After the applause and bows, the entire cast throws down with an energetic go of The Monkee's hit (written by Neil Diamond and cranked in the animated film by Smash Mouth and Eddie Murphy) "I'm A Believer" to top off the musical and wrap its fudgy fingers around your cold dead heart. Of course it would be that the lyrics aptly sum up life, "What's the use in tryin'? / All you get is pain / When I needed sunshine I got rain".
In a freezing sea blast of Gingerbread Man puppets of the Saturday matinee performance on 18 February 2012 at the Lexington Opera House. Two and a half hours with a rousing 20 minute intermission of bombastic flair.
Reviewed on Thursday, 23 February 2012