Like slimy bogs and fusty fens,
Thrill me” –William Steig (from Shrek)
“Shrek” was the first, one of the many children’s picture books, artist William Steig wrote and illustrated. Then Shrek became a DreamWorks movie followed by a Broadway musical. And now tonight, “Shrek the Musical” is the final production of the Wheelock Family Theatre’s 34th season. And what a brilliant opening night performance it was. Directed by Shelly Bolman, choreographed by Patricia Manalo Bochnak, musical direction by Matthew Stern, and costume designer Charles G. Baldwin worked together to create a production filled with dazzling entertainment. There were dance numbers to get you stomping your feet, comedy for all ages, solo singing, and vibrant choral numbers, songs mixed with dance numbers, all tucked together with simple movable sets. Whether in book, film, or theatrical presentations, the story of Shrek remains the same. It is an ugly duckling tale (with a twist), an ogre named Shrek wants to be a left alone in his swap. Farquaad (the current ruler, but not yet King) is a self- impressed bully, who orders Shrek to rescue the princess Fiona so he can marry her and the become King. Battles with fire breathing dragons and “Donkey’s” wisdom, give heart to this endearing and satisfying story. The tale promotes diversity and encourages more than superficial thought when we are asked to consider what makes a princess and what characteristics her suitor should have. The story encourages us to celebrate who we are and how we do it. To look beyond the assumptions we make when judging ourselves and others.
Experienced talented actors, Christopher Chew (Shrek), Shonna Cirone (Fiona), Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Donkey), Mark Linehan (Farquaad), set the tone by their strong performances. The smaller characters roles of Young Shrek, Young and Teenage Fiona, Thelonius, Bishop, Mama Ogre, Papa Ogre, King Harold, and the Knights did superior work as well, often playing more than one part.
Shrek the Ogre just wants to be left alone in his swamp and has no interest in having fairytale trash living next to him. The “Fairytale Trash” community of creatures are easily recognized as the characters from Grimm’s fairytales, old cartoons, and Disney movies: Pinocchio, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear, Fairy Godmother, Red Queen, Bluebird, Genie, Little Red Riding Hood, Chip, The Teacup from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel, The Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, Ugly Duckling, Queen Lillian, Wicked Witch, Captain Hook, Pied Piper, Big Bad Crossdressing Wolf, Ginny and Peter Pan. The costumes were made with bright dazzling colors that allowed the audience to easily recognize the familiar characters. And a variety of jokes are enhanced by the audiences past history and knowledge of fairytale creatures.
The live 8 man orchestra including keyboard, 2 reeds, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass, and drums sat under the stage and was first-rate.
The use of puppets was captivating when eight puppet handlers maneuvered the dramatic giant Dragon that towered, twisted, and turned majestically over the stage. The handlers moved as one and actually danced with the flow of the Dragon’s swirling body from the fire coming out of her mouth to the tip of her long pointy tail. Hand puppets were used too. Funny scenes involving the torture of the Gingerbread Man were hilarious. The Gingerbread Man cookie puppet ends up shouting, “Eat me!” and the audience roared.
Young children in the audience seemed to be smitten and enthralled by the sparkles, glitter, and energy of the evening. Unobtrusive open captioned, by illuminated lighting on both sides of the stage, aided in the enjoyment for those hard of hearing and deaf. Each production offers final weekend performances that are interpreted in American Sign Language and audio-described for patrons who are blind, with Braille programs available upon request. All productions offer enhancements for patrons with cognitive disabilities or sensory sensitivities. Everyone should partake, and savor the fun in this delightful show.