|Alan Mingo, Jr. as Donkey and
Eric Petersen as Shrek
Where: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis
When: September 11 through 26, 2010
There have been so many big-budget corporate musicals based on popular films in the last decade or so that they now appear to constitute a sub-genre with its own rules—all of which Shrek the Musical follows faithfully. There are elaborate sets, costumes and effects; solid performances by a very professional cast; and a creative team with impressive Broadway credentials. There's also about 20 minutes too much of everything but then that, too, is part of the genre.
If you're a fan of the 2001 animated film you'll be happy to find all the key events and juvenile humor of the original intact (the encounter with Robin Hood and his Merry Men being a notable exception) and all set to music—whether you like it or not. It helps that the music is by the ferociously talented Jeanine Tesori (best known as a lyricist for shows such as Thoroughly Modern Millie) and that the book and lyrics are by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Wonder of the World and many more), but even so most of it seems unlikely to have a life beyond the show. The one exception might be “When Words Fail”, a touching little ballad given, improbably but appropriately, to the title character.
Lindsay-Abaire even manages to add a bit of a gay pride spin to the original message about the importance of diversity and not judging people by appearance with songs like “Freak Flag”, in which the exiled fairy tale characters take pride in their eccentricity. “I'm wood! I'm good”, declares Pinocchio. “Get used to it!” How did Pat Robertson miss this one?
The current tour, which kicked off last month in Chicago, boats a fine cast giving their all in what appear to be physically demanding roles. Certainly David F.M. Vaughn deserves some sort of theatrical Purple Heart for belting out the role of the diminutive Lord Farquaad on his (fortunately well-padded) knees, as does Eric Petersen, charming and funny under all that makeup and padding in the title role.
Holly Ann Butler is a delight as Princess Fiona, both alone and in a power trio with Young Fiona (Madison Mullahey) and Teen Fiona (Sarah Peak), holding out for a hero (to quote a Jim Steinman lyric) in “I Know It's Today'. Alan Mingo, Jr. gets the right measure of fun out of the role of the motor-mouthed Donkey. It might have been nice to see a shorter actor in the part so we could get the “Mutt and Jeff” dynamic between Donkey and Shrek that acts as a recurring visual joke in the animated original, but you certainly couldn't ask for a better and brighter performance than the one Mr. Mingo gives you.
Other standouts in the fine supporting cast include Blakely Slaybaugh, bringing some impressive dance moves to the role of Pinocchio, and Carrie Compere as the voice of the Dragon. The sound system rendered the lyrics of her big solo “Donkey Pot Pie” incomprehensible, unfortunately, but there was no mistaking the quality of her big, soulful voice. Lyrics in chorus numbers tended to be garbled as well—a recurring and possibly unsolvable problem at the Fox.
The bottom line is that if you loved the original film and don't mind the fact that a 90-minute movie has been stretched out to a two and one-half hour stage show (including intermission), you'll probably enjoy Shrek the Musical—especially if there are youngsters in your party. Just be aware that the length might make smaller fry a bit restless and/or keep them up past their normal bedtimes.
If, on the other hand, you wish the whole “corporate theme park” school of musical theatre would just go away, you can probably give Shrek a miss.
Either way, Shrek the Musical continues through September 26 at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information you may call 314-534-1111 or visit the web site, fabulousfox.com.