Shrek The Musical Shakes up the Harris Center
A review by Ken Kiunke
for Gold Country Publications
Take your typical fairy tale story, throw in every random character you can think of, and shake it all up. What comes out is Shrek, first as a children’s book, then the hugely successful Dreamworks animated film, and finally a Broadway musical. This is a story where the monsters are the heroes, and the usual heroes turn out to be bad guys, or merely freaks themselves. The message is to accept everyone for who they are, and there’s a lot of fun to be had delivering that message.
El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) is presenting Shrek The Musical for the first time, and opened Friday at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Arts. EDMT is the high-quality youth theatre company that presents five major musicals each season. Shrek is one of their “Encore Shows,” meaning the cast is audition only, and 12 years or older. Though all of the EDMT shows are professional-level productions, Encore Shows are always a highlight for the best talent.
Most of us are familiar with the Shrek movie; starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz; and the stage musical follows the same basic story, with the addition of music by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire. The story opens with young ogre Shrek being sent away by his parents, and dozens of familiar fairytale characters are banished from their home to the swamp Shrek has claimed for his own. Though presented tongue-in-cheek, it is a fairly somber opening. But when Shrek, played by Zach Wilson, meets Donkey, played by Stephen Knoble, the shows starts to come alive.
Zach Wilson is starring in his 42nd EDMT show, and fans of the company have seen him grow from the little kid with glasses, in shows like Peter Pan, to become a leading man for the company, with roles like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of OZ, and Cornelius in Hello, Dolly!. Under costuming and make-up, he inhabits the role of Shrek and makes it his own. He and Stephen Knoble wisely take very little from Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in their characterizations of the reluctant buddies, with just a hint of Myers’ Scottish accent and Murphy’s streetwise Donkey. They have great moments together throughout the show in songs like “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Travel Song” as they build their relationship.
The show really takes off with the introduction of Lord Farquaad, brilliantly played by Dalton Johnson. The “vertically challenged” Farquaar bursts on the scene with the company of Dulac Dancersâ€”the people of the kingdom of Dulac all dressed in exactly the same colorful outfitsâ€”and sings “What’s Up Dulac?” Channeling a bit of Jim Carrey in the role, Johnson portrays the primping, short-tempered ruler of the land with great humor, lighting up the stage with his cocky attitude, great singing, and “special-effect” dancing (which you have to see to believe.)
The most effective scene of the show comes with the introduction of the fourth lead character, Princess Fiona. We meet her locked in her castle tower, as 13-year-old Emily Hobbs sings “I Know It’s Today,” hoping her dreams will come true. My first impression was “Wow, she’s a great singer, but she’s kind of young to be the leading lady.” But then she transforms into Nittany Biggs as “Teen Fiona,” and then Kelly Maur as our true grown-up leading lady. The three then complete the song in lovely three part harmony. Maur, who is in her 23rd EDMT show, later joins Wilson and Knoble in another wonderful moment when the three sing “Who’d I Be” as they each express their inner hopes in interweaving melodies, closing the first act.
Another standout scene is the appearance of the great dragon that guards the castle where Fiona is held prisoner. As the actual dragon appears on stage, she is voiced by a three-part girl group, played by Jordan Soto, Emily Martorana, and Jocelyn Haney. Dressed like a classic 60s group like the Supremes, they show the dragon’s affections for Donkey in the songs “Forever” and “This is How a Dream Comes True.” It’s a clever way to present the story, and the girls do a great job singing and acting the part of the diva dragon. Other great numbers featuring the whole company are Fiona’s song “Morning Person,” which features the Pied Piper (Evan Martorana) and his tap dancing rats, and the closing song, “I’m A Believer”, written by Neil Diamond and featuring the appropriate lyrics “I thought love was only true in fairy tales, meant for someone else, but not for meâ€¦But then I saw her face, now I’m a believer.”
That old lesson that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” told by artists from Ray Stevens to Mr. Rogers, is delivered in a fun, uplifting and funny way by Shrek The Musical, and presented by EDMT in their usual high quality by Director Debbie Wilson, supported by Producer Alicia Soto, Vocal Director Jennifer Wittmayer, and Costumer Christine Martorana, with help from countless volunteers, including several cast members. Wilson said they had over 100 wigs and 10 racks of costumes ready for the 36 performers, the highest rack-to-performer ratio they’ve ever had, with over 400 costume pieces in the “What’s Up Dulac” number alone.