Shrek the Musical: A Review

Most of us are familiar with Shrek the movie, Mike Meyers’s 2001 smash (complete with Smashmouth’s cover of “I’m a Believer” as the credits roll). Some of us are familiar with Shrek the book, William Steig’s 1990 children’s tale that features a much more repulsive, cruder ogre who saves, then marries his equally repulsive bride and lives “horribly ever after.” David Lindsay-Albaire and Jeanine Tesori’s Shrek the Musical blends the movie’s crude but sensitive-beneath-the-surface ogre with the book’s crude and (literally!) prickly one, and slips in clever cultural and political allusions as well. Spoiler Alert: You don’t want to miss this Shrek, The Waterworks Players’ first production of its new season. It’s energetic. It’s really funny—your kids will love it and you’ll love it too, for more adult reasons. It’s a visual and aural delight. And its large cast, ranging from Waterworks veterans to grade schoolers making their stage debuts, is excellent.

One of the most gratifying aspects is how this musical blends song and story; Shrek is after all a revisiting, and a revision, of the classic fairy tale. The production opens with a young Shrek and his parents emerging out of the “once upon a time” pages of a huge book (Billy Tucker’s set is imaginatively marvelous). He’s just turned seven, and Mom and Dad are eager to be empty nesters: “It’s a big bright beautiful world—but not for you,” they counsel him. The story motif appears midway in when Princess Fiona, her small library behind her, peevishly pines for her prince and reads generic Prince Charming scenarios from a huge book. The musical ends with lyrics like these: “You’ve never read a book like this / but fairy tales should really be updated.”

This Shrek follows the movie’s storyline: Shrek, the swamp, the displaced fairy tale characters; Shrek’s friend Donkey, the preening Lord Farquaad; Shrek and Donkey’s journey to save Fiona in her Castle Perilous; and of course the boy-gets-girl happy ending, ogre-style. What’s different here is the inclusion of contemporary concerns like self-esteem (“I’m not a wooden boy,” Pinocchio says, “I have a glandular condition”) and bad parenting (“You don’t have the market cornered on crummy childhoods,” Shrek tells Fiona). Even Farquaad—just as short, but a lot more “swishy” than the movie version—has “daddy issues.”

Dubbed “freaks of nature” by Farquaad’s retinue, the fairy tale folks, in the show-stopper “Let Your Freak Flag Fly,” hint at society’s current outsiders: refugees, the disabled, the LGBTQ community. And there are moments, such as when Shrek begins to privatize his reclaimed swamp, that take on political resonance: “Gonna build me a wall / Make it ten feet high, / A perfect place to hide, / The best way to conquer, / they say, is to divide.”

But like the movie, Shrek the Musical’s touch is light. Popular culture zingers abound: the map-reading Shrek states that he “just took a left at Oprah’s castle”; Donkey describes himself as “a GPS with fur.” The score contains snatches of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and The Nutcracker alongside the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Shrek and Fiona’s flatulent courtship is little-kid noisy and rude; Donkey’s doubles entendres (“You need to put some more wood on before your fire dies,” he tells the shy Shrek) are safely adult.

The cast is marvelous. Craig Dodson is a convincingly crude-but-sensitive Shrek; his solo “When Words Fail” is quite touching. Sherri Davenport’s Fiona is spunky and vulnerable; her beautiful voice and sassy body language complement Shrek’s perfectly. Elijah Logue is a revelation as Donkey; his patter and comic timing generate chuckles all through the audience. And Mason Patrick puts his own campy spin on Lord Farquaad. Kudos, too, to the rest of this large cast, many of whom play multiple roles. From top to bottom, this Shrek is a true ensemble effort.

And kudos to the production team. Any play, a musical especially, has lots of moving parts, and they all mesh smoothly thanks to: Laura Millon and Carole Harper, musical directors; Caitlin Mazura, stage manager; Jackson Gregory White, assistant stage manager; the aforementioned Billy Tucker, set design; Erika Evans, costume design; Scott Chapman, lighting design; and Clint Wright and Mary Jo Stockton, sound design. Special recognition goes to Zachary Glasscock, who directed and choreographed Shrek; this is his directorial debut, and the laughter and applause throughout the performance I attended are testament to his energy and ability.

Shrek the Musical runs two more nights: Friday, October 27th and Saturday, October 28th at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit the Waterworks website or call 392-3452.