Music Theatre of Denton
Producer – David K. Pierce
Director – Bill Kirkley
Music Direction – John Norine, Jr.
Choreography – Emily Leekha
Stage Manager – Elizabeth Cantrell
Lighting Design – Vicki Kirkley
Sound Design – Vicki Kirkley
Costume Design – Jamie Adams
Props Master – Sara Nobles
Wig Design – Lona Wolf
Projection Design – Eric Ryan
Scenic Design – Terry Nobles
Shrek – Paul Iwanicki
Fiona – Sara Kennedy
Donkey – Anthony Ortega
Farquaad – John Tillman
Papa Shrek – Johnny Bryant
Mama Shrek, Blind Mouse, Rat Tapper – Kaci Franssen
Teen Fiona, Rat Tapper, Dulocian – Carly Haynes
Young Fiona, Baby Bear – Danielle Taylor Graves
Dragon, Mama Bear – Lindsey Yarborough
Papa Bear – Mike Strecher
Gingy, Blind Mouse, Sugar Plum Fairy – Sementa Alldredge
Pinocchio – Cameron Hall
Big Bad Wolf, Thelonius, Dancer – Scott Deck
Pig, Rat Tapper, Dulocian – Bryson Beavers
Pig – Daniela Ruelas
Pig – Eric Ryan
Fairy Godmother, Queen Lillian – Amanda Rose Fisher
Peter Pan, Pied Piper, Dulocian – Alex Peters
Witch, Blind Mouse – Sienna Riehle
Ugly Duckling – Kristen Brasher
Mad Hatter, Kind Harold, Rat Tapper – Corey Ray
Humpty Dumpty, Dulocian – Melissa Tillman
Elf, Villager – Jinger Jones
Little Shrek – Carson Mann
Rat Tapper, Dulocian, Villager – Carin Thornton
Rat Tapper, Dulocian, Villager – Claire Marie Crenshaw
Rat Tapper, Dulocian, Villager, Ensemble – Autumn Hitt
Reviewed Performance 10/22/2016
Reviewed by Nicole Mulupi, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Almost everybody is familiar with Shrek, the ogre who became a hero after rescuing the damsel-in-distress. In this unconventional story, the ogre gets the girl, they share true love’s kiss, and they both live happily ugly ever after. What most people don’t know, though, is that the character of Shrek was originally created by then-83-year-old author and cartoonist William Steig in a picture book for children published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October of 1990.
After acquiring film rights in 1994, DreamWorks began production on Shrek the movie in 1995 and the computer-animated film was finally released to strong reviews on April 22, 2001 and won the very first Oscar ever awarded for Best Animated Feature, beating out Disney’s Monsters, Inc. for the prize. There remains, ultimately, only the slightest resemblance between the movie version and Steig’s book, but Steig and his family were pleased with it, nonetheless.
Shrek The Musical followed seven years later, also to favorable reviews. After a brief trial run at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and ongoing edits, the show opened on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre on November 8, 2008. It ran for a total of 441 performances and 37 previews, closing after more than a year on Broadway, on January 3, 2010—the same year Shrek received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Broadway musical was nominated for 8 Tony awards, with Tim Hatley winning for Best Costume Design. Several songs, characters, and designs were cut and replaced with new ones along the way, but what has remained is a show that sticks closely to the movie. Fans of the movie are likely to enjoy the musical, as well.
The Music Theatre of Denton offers up a fun, family-friendly production. Theatre enthusiasts will enjoy trying to catch the many inside-jokes and references made to other well-known plays and musicals, but regular people will have just as much fun enjoying the eclectic musical mix of pop styles and the pure silliness of this production.
As a critic, it is my job to point out both good and bad; in this show, I found a “but” for nearly everything praiseworthy, but I will not bore you with every tiny detail. Did I enjoy the performance? Yes, absolutely. Was it the best I’ve seen? Well…to be perfectly honest, I had more fun seeing this show for the first time, at a Shrek The Musical, Jr. children’s theatre performance last year, where I laughed hysterically at their Donkey, Fiona, and Lord Farquaad. That shorter, faster-paced version didn’t have as much time to drag as this full-length musical tends to do. With that said, I still laughed and cried and had a good time with this cast at the Campus Theatre.
In MTD’s production, most of the staging elements are good and practical, though not individually captivating in their artistry. On stage right is Shrek’s outhouse, looking exactly as it did in the film. It is “home” for Shrek. Other major set pieces include a large gazebo covered in moss and foliage, which represents “the journey” and, on stage left, a tall, ornate structure that served dual purposes as Farquaad’s castle and Fiona’s tower, “the destination”. The three main set pieces never moved from their location on the stage, though the gazebo rotated a couple of times. Eric Ryan’s extensive animated digital scenery was projected onto a screen above center stage, and it provided all of the major scenic changes that were needed. And, with the amount of travelling going on, the projections added a lot to the show. My favorite set piece was Farquaad’s vertical torture table upon which Gingy, the gingerbread man was questioned. Gingy looked the exact same as he did in the movie (only bigger), and Sementa Alldredge controlled his expressions as she voiced the character from behind the platform upon which he was mounted. Every time Gingy’s eyebrows were lowered into an angry face and his mouth became a grimace, the audience (myself included) cracked up with laughter.
Funny was, and should be, the rule in this show. In any competition between silliness and artistry, silliness won the day. One example of this would be in Sara Nobles’ props. Though they were effective in getting the point across, they were often comically bad and intentionally unrealistic, like the inflatable deer that lost its antlers, and the cameo appearances of a tiny giraffe (accompanied with a musical excerpt from The Lion King) and a puss in boots doll, which were referenced in passing and carried hastily and unceremoniously across the stage by ensemble members. Like the movie, Shrek The Musical does not take itself too seriously.
Jamie Adams put together a spray of costumes that were fun and colorful. They provided an important degree of visual contrast to the show. Those of Shrek, Farquaad and the Dulocians were best. However, I would have liked Farquaad’s costume to do a better job of hiding his legs. His tiny fake legs would be even funnier if his black pants were not easily visible beneath them. Likewise, Donkey’s costume could have been more donkey-like. It looked more like fur than donkey hair. The fairytale creatures were fantastic, and the dance ensembles looked great. I loved the Three Blind Mice.
Emily Leekha’s choreography was wonderful. She used a lot of Broadway choreography in the dance numbers, which were very entertaining. There were outstanding large ensemble songs, like “What’s Up Duloc” and “Freak Flag”, but the Rat Tappers and the Three Blind Mice in the smaller tap numbers, “Morning Person” and “Make a Move” were awesome, as well.
John Norine Jr. conducted the small orchestra of talented musicians who provided all of the live music and accompaniment. They performed well. I did not hear a note or beat out of place. Unfortunately, I think this production could have benefitted from a professional sound engineer. There was a bit of mic popping in the beginning, which was soon fixed, but the mix itself could have been better. The Campus Theatre hall is built acoustically to amplify sound, so there was not much need for the excessive electronic amplification they used. I don’t think trumpets and loud belt voices, in particular, need nearly as much mic volume as they were receiving. The brass instruments sometimes ended up swallowing the rest of the orchestral sound, and the loud vocals made me want to cover my ears at times.
The cast of Shrek The Musical is like a big, loud happy family. You can tell they’re having fun on stage, and that they’ve obviously had a lot of fun in rehearsals, as well. Overall, it is a cast of strong performers, though they shine best in ensemble, rather than as soloists. Iwanicki, who played the title character, has a passable singing voice, but he sometimes tended to go a bit flat on leading tones. I didn’t notice pitch issues with anyone else. Of course, one wouldn’t expect an ogre to have a perfect singing voice, anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal at all, and most listeners won’t even notice it.
Most of the time, the action centers around one of the four main characters: Shrek, Fiona, Donkey or Lord Farquaad. Paul Iwanicki made a charming Shrek, and he was well-matched with Sara Kennedy as Fiona. No, Iwanicki did not nail the Scottish accent. He made an effort, with d’s and t’s aspirated, but the accent was uneven, at best. Kennedy’s Fiona was strong, and Iwanicki was more engaging in scenes he shared with her. Anthony Ortega’s Donkey was sassy and a bit more effeminate in tone, posture and mannerisms than Eddie Murphy’s original Donkey; this lent a different type of humor to the role. His saucy, flippant speaking voice turned into a powerhouse of soul when he sang. He had, probably, the strongest belting voice in the cast. Lindsey Yarborough came a close second as Dragon, perfectly complementing Ortega in their Motown/R&B flavored duet “Forever.” In sharp contrast, John Tillman’s character was very, very “white.” Lord Farquaad was a harmless, sympathetic villain with a backstory and self-esteem issues. He was excellent in “What’s Up, Duloc,” with a voice and an attitude straight out of vaudeville.
My favorite song in the show is “I Know it’s Today,” the trio between Young Fiona, Teen Fiona and adult Fiona. It’s the prettiest, most memorable song in the show, and Danielle Taylor Graves, Carly Haynes, and Sara Kennedy sang it beautifully.
Except for the Dulocians, who were all nearly identical in dress, movement, and expressions, the rest of the performers each added their own bit of uniqueness and individuality to their roles. As I said before, Sementa Alldredge got great laughs as Gingy the gingerbread man. Another surprising scene-stealer was Scott Deck as the obviously gay and sarcastic Big Bad Wolf in his granny hat and robe. Even though he didn’t have many lines, he was an audience favorite and laugh-out-loud funny.
Cameron Hall gave another strong performance as Pinocchio, who led the ensemble cast. Hall adopted the nasally high-pitched voice portrayed in the movie, and maintained the hunched posture and motions of a puppet throughout the show. His character provides one of the great moral lessons of the show: to accept yourself as you are.
Shrek The Musical is a fun show that encourages us all to accept ourselves as we are and to look beyond appearances for what we share in common with others. It teaches us to put away our fairytale hopes and dreams and to embrace reality, instead. And, even if we don’t buy all that moralizing crap, it’s a fun show. So, if you have a free night, take your family out and support your local community theatre.
SHREK THE MUSICAL
Music Theatre of Denton at the Campus Theatre in Historic Downtown Denton, 214 W. Hickory Street, Denton, TX 76201
Runs through October 30, 2016
Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $15 for students, and can be purchased online at www.musictheatreofdenton.com.