A play has its work cut out for it when it follows a wildly popular animated movie, as “Shrek The Musical” does. To be successful, it needs to be different enough to justify itself and similar enough to retain its fan base. Children’s Theatre Company’s current production is mostly successful in making the case for the big green monster’s rightful place onstage.
This clever tale of an ugly ogre, a lovely princess and the adventures that bring them together offers a significant message about tolerance and the value of inner beauty, but it’s really the manner in which the message is delivered that lends the story such appeal.
In this “Fractured Fairy Tale”-style land of make-believe, the would-be handsome hero is a cad, the scary monster has a heart of gold, the fearsome dragon is just looking for love and the princess can really let one rip.
Director Peter Rothstein keeps the tempo fast and the spirits high as the play unfolds on Kate Sutton-Johnson’s brilliantly green trompe l’oeil set, in which a series of concentric circles frames a seemingly endless road. While Jeanine Tesori’s musical score is a fairly unmemorable pastiche of musical styles, Denise Prosek’s sharp musical direction and Michael Matthew Ferrell’s witty choreography lend it some sparkle and punch.
Autumn Ness offers a vibrantly earthy Fiona, who teeters between her canned image of how a princess should behave and her natural instinct for boisterous good fun. She’s a delight in her second-act musical number with Shrek, where the two discover their commonalities as they turn belching and passing gas into a competitive sport.
The other standout in this cast is Adam Qualls’ Lord Farquaad. Walking around on his knees, with tiny legs hanging from the front of his costume, he has a marvelous time posturing, posing and preening. His arch and nasty delivery is every bit as effective as this hilarious sight gag.
Lauren Davis, in a towering structure of a costume, gives a torchy and sizzling performance as the dragon who keeps Fiona imprisoned. The usually irrepressible Reed Sigmund is somewhat more subdued as Shrek, but he lends the role a winning sense of humanity as he realizes that he’s hopelessly in love. Ansa Akyea’s Donkey is also more low-keyed than expected, although he has some nice moments in a number with the three blind mice.
While “Shrek The Musical” isn’t CTC’s most inspired staging, this twisted take on the world of fairy tales offers plenty of fun and warm-hearted charm.
Lisa Brock writes about theater.