Review: Shrek the Musical rocks the stage with a few quirks
|Princess Fiona’s Pied Piper Rats dance is one of the
best moments of the show. Photo courtesy of SHN
“You’re seven, Happy birthday! Now it’s time to go away,” sang Papa Ogre and Mama Ogre to their young Shrek, before telling him to hit the road and watch out for nasty people who’ll hate him for his ugliness. “Every princess gets locked in a tower,” said the king and the queen to their 7-year old Fiona, taking her to her prison with a cute kiddie suitcase where they packed her a “dollie” so she could wait for her prince. Now that was a kickass opening sequence! If only the rest had been as irresistible, Shrek the musical would be the best musical I’ve seen with the kids this year.
On Wednesday, I was invited to see Shrek the Musical at the Orpheum Theatre as part of a mommy blogger event. To gather age-appropriate feedback, I brought my very own little Shrek-xperts: my two girls ages 5 and 7 and a little friend age 7. Impatience was palpable in the audience at 2pm and when the show started, all voices shushed immediately.Two and a half hours later, this is what the 7-year-olds (grinning from ear to ear) had to say/yell to me: “That was awesome! It was so fun when Shrek and Fiona farted and burped at each other!” Proving the point, they tried to burp at each other. The 5-year-old went “Princess Fiona is so pretty” and sighed, cupping her hands and rolling her eyes.
I was happy but deep inside, not entirely convinced. Here’s what I think: this show is great for older kids. It’s obvious the 2nd graders, the post-Captain Underpants crowd, enjoyed it. They talked about it at school the next day and were thrilled they met Shrek at the end. However it was too long for my 5-year old who almost fell asleep before the intermission. I wasn’t that grabbed either at the end of the first act. I felt it dragged on and on and as a spectactor, I wanted either more acting and less singing or less of everything.
The beauty of the movie is that it’s 90 minutes long. It’s action-packed, plot-driven and scandalously funny. The musical is 150 minutes long. Even substracting 15 minutes of intermission, that’s 45 extra minutes of dance numbers and new songs that are not all that catchy. The show is redeemed by Broadway-quality singing and the biggest variety of moving sets I’ve ever seen but I still wish the show had been tightened more. Then it would have been perfect because the execution was fantastic.
Call me naive but I thought that Shrek the Musical was going to be a stage version of the movie. Sure, it’s that and when it transcribes the movie on stage, it follows the script to a perfect T. However it also has an entirely different musical score, surprise twists, added scenes and that came as a surprise to me. I can’t believe I was surprised, it’s a musical for God’s sake! Except for the song “I’m a believer,” all songs are new. Some are A+ good – “I Think I Got You Beat,” “What’s Up, Duloc?” – but others are simply not my cup of tea – “Story of my Life,” “Travel Song”. Obviously there’s a lot to say in favor of seeing musicals you already know (hey, easier to sing along), but I don’t think I’ll get the music to this one just yet.
Now the good news is, the “new” scenes are actually better than the original storyline. I loved when Princess Fiona danced with the rats of the Pied Piper or when Donkey sang with the three blind mice. All that rodent business was a riot. My girls loved “I Think I got You Beat” and all kids around me were in stitches when Fiona and Shrek exchanged loud burps and farts. Never underestimate the power of potty humor! The gingerbread man animated puppet was really well done and the tiny crooked legs of Lord Farquaard made us giggle each time he moved. I’ll take that back: until the actor got up from his knees and my 5-year old looked at me in shock. He’s a real man with real legs?? Wow, she was certainly surprised.
Indeed, the four main characters (Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and Farquaard) survived the passage to stage very well. They even transcended their movie personae. Donkey sometimes steals the show – just can’t help it, it’s a great lovable character. Shrek is irreverent and generous, Fiona is funny and complex, and we love Lord Farquaard mean goofiness. However I can’t say the fractured fairytales characters did as well. To me, the three bears looked like humans dressed up as bears. I wish we hadn’t seen their faces because it made them not very believable for me. Not that the kids cared, by the way. They loved the Sugar Plum Fairy. And the wicked witch. And Gingy the gingerbread man. This morning at breakfast they were besting each other over “Yes Shrek’s face is made of rubber!” None complained about this so take my words with a grain of salt. I bet the kids would love seconds of Shrek the Musical any day.
Have I mentioned the sets are unbelievable? I’ve hinted at it but I’ll repeat it louder. The sets are super ingenious and move around so well you believe that the characters actually walk though the forest to get in front of the castle. I had no idea how they were going to render the gazillion backdrops of the movie and I was really impressed. Hats down to British set and costume designer Tim Hatley for impeccable scenic and costume design. That itself was worth the show.
Since kids are the target audience, I’d like to finish on what they liked most. No contest, it was the song “I’m a believer” at the end of the show and I agree on that. That song absolutely rocks and there’s no better sendoff for a Shrek musical. All spectators stood up to clap, some danced and everybody smiled and sang along. Judging by the smile on kids faces in the lobby, I’d say it was a rousing success.
Go see Shrek with the kiddos!
Thanks to the Weekend Sherpa’s e-newsletter, I can share a way to get tickets half price. Reserve your seats for just $49.50 (regularly priced $80-$99) by using the promo code 4SHREK at checkout. The offer expires on December 18th so don’t delay. Get your tickets here.
And subscribe to the Weekend Sherpa’s newsletter while you’re on it. You’ll get the inside scoop on lots of Bay Area places. It’s easy, it’s free and they know the Bay Area like the back of their hand. Sign up here.