Theater review: 'Shrek: The Musical' at the Pantages
Based on the Oscar-winning 2001 film, which was based on William Steig's children's book, “Shrek” was DreamWorks Animation's first Broadway foray, featuring lyrics and book by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”) and music by Jeanine Tesori (“Caroline, or Change”). But if DreamWorks and co-producer Neal Street Productions hoped to emulate the success of rival Disney's Broadway blockbusters, it didn't quite snag that brass ring. “Shrek” ran only 13 months.
It's understandable if one approaches the show with a whiff of cynicism. With their big-budget filmic retreads, the likes of Disney and DreamWorks have been widely decried as moneychangers in the theatrical temple who have altered the business of Broadway.
But, if you check your suspicions at the door (along with that under-taxed brain), you will likely be enchanted, at least intermittently, by this deluxe and engagingly silly entertainment.
Original Broadway director Jason Moore and co-director Rob Ashford preside over this current offering, which has been heavily tweaked. Changes include substituting a lighter-weight dragon, manipulated by puppeteers, for the 1,200-pound Broadway monster.
Of course, the tale revolves around Shrek (comfortably offhand Eric Petersen) a misanthropic ogre whose swamp has been invaded by fairy tale characters, exiled by decree of despotic, diminutive Lord Farquaad (comically astute David F.M. Vaughn, walking on his knees in some of the funniest sight gags of the show). In order to rid himself of his unwanted visitors, Shrek agrees to rescue Farquaad's intended bride, Princess Fiona (hilarious Haven Burton) from a castle surrounded by lava and guarded by a lovelorn lady dragon (spectacularly voiced by Carrie Compere).
Accompanying Shrek on his quest is lovable chatterbox Donkey (engaging Alan Mingo Jr.). On the road back to Farquaad's castle, “ugly” Shrek and “pretty” Fiona start to bond. Naturally, their true love is balked by misunderstandings, not to mention Fiona's startling secret, which just might prove a boon to Shrek's romantic ambitions after all.
Lindsay-Abaire's lyrics can be a bit self-consciously clever, and Jeanine Tesori's eclectic tunes seem specifically designed to truckle to the tastes of all age ranges. But the score's endearing lightheartedness soothes our suspicions that it may have been subjected to the dread committee design process. Moments of inspired whimsy, such as a stageful of tap-dancing rats (don't ask, just see), prove genuinely transporting, Hatley's wildly inventive creations are a must-see, and the cheeky actors are having so much fun, you will too.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Shrek: The Musical,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 31. $25-$90. (800) 982-2787. www.BroadwayLA.org. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.
Top: Eric Petersen as Shrek. Below: David F.M. Vaughn as Lord Farquaad. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times