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vancouverplays review


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— A typical romantic moment between Shrek (Matt Palmer) and Princess Fiona (Lindsay Warnock), refereed by Donkey (Ken Overbey). Photo by Milan Radovanovic.

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
July 11-Aug. 30

Following the huge success of Legally Blonde: The Musical last summer, Theatre Under the Stars has turned to another stage adaptation of a popular movie. Shrek: The Musical plays in rep this summer under the stars in Stanley Park along with the remount of Legally Blonde.

One of the best animated movies ever, Shrek doesn't make the translation to the musical stage quite as slickly as Elle and her friends do. Still, its offbeat romance and tongue-in-cheek wit are a lot of fun, and Sarah Rodgers' TUTS production features some delightful performances.

Under a substantial amount of green prosthetic, Matt Palmer manages to make Shrek a richly human ogre. Palmer does long-suffering really well, with a deadpan expression that speaks even more eloquently of Shrek's relationships than the David Lindsay-Abaire lyrics he sings about Donkey ("He's as chatty as a parrot, / More annoying than a mime") or his dialogue when first confronted with Princess Fiona's romantic demands ("Great, I'm like a crackpot magnet!").

Palmer has a gorgeous singing voice, so even if you think his bald green head, trumpet ears and rotund figure make Shrek grotesque, the voice cuts through all that to tell us this is a creature worth caring for. The mellifluous Scottish accent is a nice addition.

Lindsay Warnock's Fiona is a very good match for him. More than in the movie, the play spells out their parallel lives. Seven-year-old Shrek is kicked out of the house by his parents, little princess Fiona dumped in the tower by hers. As the chorus sings in the opening song, "It's a big bright beautiful world ... but not for you." Later, in “I Think I Got You Beat,” Shrek and Fiona sing their competing hard luck stories, leading to a belching and farting contest for the ages.

Warnock has a strong voice and plays the gross-out scenes to the hilt. Even when Palmer milks a gag like Shrek's disgusting nose-blowing into Fiona's hanky, Warnock takes it with a straight face. Yeah, these two are meant for each other.

Donkey isn't quite the powerhouse he is in the movie, where Eddie Murphy steals every scene he's in. Ken Overbey's jive-talking Donkey is a fine dancer and has great energy but he's more lively than funny.

In another shift from the movie, Donkey's romance with the dragon (big-voiced, soulful Sharon Crandall at the head of a Chinese New Year-style dragon) is played down, while his sweet bromance with Shrek is enhanced. This Donkey snuggles up to Shrek every chance he gets and sings to him, "I'll watch your back when things get scary, / And I'll shave it when it gets hairy." Late in the show in a big choral number, the fairytale creatures celebrate difference and fly the Freak Flag with pride. Donkey is way out ahead of the pack.

The biggest and best change from movie to musical involves Lord Farquaad, the little lord with the big ego and the name that epitomizes the adult (or adolescent) humour buried in this kids' show. His lordship's role is significantly larger here, and Victor Hunter takes shameless advantage of every scene he's in. His is a wonderful, authoritative performance, from his torturing of the Gingerbread Man to the campy number in which towel-clad soldiers give Farquaad a bubble bath.

Hunter is an absolute hoot. To make Farquaad short he plays the character on his knees, with Farquaad's floppy little fake legs in front of his own, hidden from the audience. The effect is hilarious, and in one astonishing scene this floppy-legged Farquaad even manages to dance--a high point of Julie Tomaino's generally understated choreography.

Like Shrek himself, though, Shrek: The Musical feels overweight. When a 90 minute movie becomes an almost three hour stage show, the little kids in the audience struggle to stay engaged. Some of the business is cleverly effective, like the bird that blows up when Fiona serenades it with her screechy high notes, but much of it seems just filler, requiring Brian Ball's colourful cardboard set pieces to be rolled on and off the stage every few minutes.

Lindsay-Abaire's lyrics are as clever as the movie's dialogue but Jeanine Tesori's musical score has few knockout moments. The most invigorating music in the show is the Monkees' “I'm a Believer,” sung and danced as the encore.

My hope is that the many moving parts of Shrek: The Musical get tighter over the course of its six-week run. Near the beginning, shunned and alone, Shrek says, "Being liked is greatly overrated." But you want to be able to love this show and all its freaky creatures.

Jerry Wasserman


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