Most people are familiar with the 2001 Dreamworks feature film, Shrek. Just in case, it’s a sort of un-fairytale featuring a whole bunch of familiar fairytale characters. It also, of course, features Shrek, a green ogre and his friend, Donkey. When Shrek’s precious swampland is…well…swamped with unwanted fairytale creatures, he strikes a deal with the short and viciously ambitious Lord Farquaad: Shrek will rescue the lovely Princess Fiona, making Farquaad the king, and in return, he’ll get his land back. Ultimately, though, the journey turns out to be more momentous than Shrek had planned, and he ends up falling in love with Princess Fiona and even gaining a pal (Donkey) in the process. The film, while not a musical, practically begs to be made into one, and David-Lindsay Abaire of Fuddy Meers fame undertook the task, creating the uproarious Shrek the Musical, now onstage through Harnett Regional Theatre and under the skilled, always-smooth direction of Ruth Mills.
Abaire’s book starts with seven year old Shrek (Sam Medlin) being sent off into the world to fend for himself, the same fate that ultimately befalls Young Princess Fiona (Riley Heath). The only difference that Shrek truly is on his own while Fiona is sent to live in a tower, guarded, of course, by a dragon, where she must wait for her prince. Shrek’s sendoff includes the first (of many) hilarious and wonderful songs of the show, “Big Bright Beautiful World.”
As the story progresses and Shrek and Fiona grow into adults, now portrayed by John Dupree and Leanne Bernard, a whole, huge cast of colorful fairytale characters is introduced. Some of the best of these include Pinocchio (Jacob Godwin), who nails the squeaky voice of the character; the waddling and sarcastic Ugly Duckling (Ashley Dupree); the cute, almost-gangsta elf (Ella John Dupree); and the cross-dressing Big, Bad Wolf (Dennis McCool).
In spite of the kid-friendly nature of the show, it is surprisingly edgy, featuring many a raunchy (but nicely veiled) joke or two to keep the adult members of the audience interested and laughing. However, there are also plenty of fart and burp jokes to make every child squeal with delight. And, as if farting and burping weren’t enough, the larger-than-life costumes by Amy Langdon and the wonderful, large-scale choreography by Patsy Castellano are enthralling enough for all ages. Speaking of costumes, Shrek’s ogre gear and Lord Farquaad’s (Chris Howell) costume, which makes him “stand” only a few feet tall, are the kinds of things you just have to see to believe.
Underneath the combination of edgy-meets-silly and the outrageous costumes, however, this is a show with real heart. Shrek bonds with Donkey (Rachel Wheeler Strickland) in spite of himself; that fact, plus the growing love between Shrek and Fiona is undeniably touching. At its heart, this is a story of unconditional (and untraditional) love and of accepting yourself no matter what. That fact is perhaps most evident in the huge and hugely fabulous musical number, “Freak Flag,” which features the entire cast.
And, speaking of the whole cast, it’s a pretty amazing one. Full of energy, life, and obvious passion for this fun script, these actors have really outdone themselves. John Dupree is the perfect Shrek. He knows how to turn on the charm and silly for the little ones, but he also nails the more emotional moments of the show; his portrayal is endearing and sweet but never saccharine. However, just as Shrek is not alone in his long and arduous journey, Dupree has the fabulous Strickland to back him up. Her soulful and silly portrayal of Donkey offers some of the funniest moments in the entire show.
And the songs…wow, the songs! Lindsay-Abaire has really outdone himself here. His songs are touching, funny, and multi-layered…kind of like an onion (you have to see the show to get that joke). Some of the best numbers include “When Words Fail” and “Build a Wall,” both beautifully delivered by John Dupree.
In short, Shrek is a real masterpiece. It works on many levels and is sure to provide a delightful evening of entertainment for absolutely any viewer. Harnett Regional Theatre has really outdone itself, and this show is definitely one that’s worth the trek to Dunn.
The Harnett Regional Theatre presents SHREK THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. May 9, 2:30 p.m. May 10, 7:30 p.m. May 16, and 2:30 p.m. May 17 in Stewart Theater, 114 N. Wilson Ave., Dunn, North Carolina 28334, in Historic Downtown Dunn.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students up to age 18 and seniors 60+).
BOX OFFICE: 910-892-3282 or https://squareup.com/market/onlinehrt.
PRESENTER: http://onlinehrt.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/onlinehrt.
Shrek! (1990 illustrated book): http://us.macmillan.com/shrek (Macmillan) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrek! (Wikipedia).
William Steig (author): http://us.macmillan.com/author/williamsteig (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Steig (Wikipedia).
Shrek! (2001 animated film): http://www.shrek.com/ (official web page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrek (Wikipedia).
Shrek the Musical (2008 Broadway and 2011 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000372 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=477421 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrek_the_Musical (Wikipedia).
Jeanine Tesori (music):: http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=12488 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanine_Tesori (Wikipedia).
David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics): http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=389683 (Internet Broadway Database), https://twitter.com/lindsayabaire (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Lindsay-Abaire (Wikipedia).
Ruth Mills (Smithfield, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/ruth.mills.549 (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.