I didn’t realize the irony of me attending a musical featuring a tough, but gentle Ogre name Shrek on St. Patrick’s day until I saw a bunch of kids and parent patrons wearing green. Just my luck. The 2017 production of Shrek the Musical was a Charm City Players revival from their 2015 season. Several of the actors from the 2015 show reprised their roles to include Mr. Dean Davis as Shrek, Mr. J. Purnell Hargrove as Donkey, Ms. Christina Napp as Sugar Plum fairy/Gingy and Ms. Kathryn Weaver as the Musical Director. Truth be told I don’t have kids and I somehow forgot this was a musical geared toward children. And they are everywhere. Pre-teen kids from the ensemble were dressed as fairy tale characters in the lobby and served double duty as the ushers. Kids and parents were wearing Ogre eared headbands in the audience. What have I gotten myself into? I will say this: the rowdy kids were instantly hushed as soon as the first note was sung by Mama Ogre (Ms. Alana Simone). Her voice was so crisp and strong that it lulled the kids in the audience into a trance. And they stayed in that trance until intermission. They got a little restless in Act 2, but hey, they’re kids and 3 hours is a long time to expect them to be still and quiet. Moving on….
Most people have seen the movie Shrek and remember the story so there shouldn’t be any spoilers below. All of the magical creatures are evicted from their homes and invade Shrek’s swamp land home. They all agree that Shrek is the best person to stand up to Lord Farquaad so that they can return to their homes. Shrek meets Donkey on his journey, and they become fast friends (sort of). Lord Farquaad agrees to give Shrek the deed to his swamp if he rescues the fair princess Fiona from the dragon-guarded tower and bring her back to Duloc to wed Lord Farquaad to make him the King of all the land. Princess Fiona is captured by the unassuming Ogre and we learn that she is much more than meets the eye. Flash forward: Princess Fiona takes true love’s form as an Ogre, Lord Farquaad is ousted, Donkey gets a friend for life in Shrek and all the creatures rejoice. Your standard issue fairy tale.
A few standout performances included Mr. J. Purnell Hargrove as Donkey. Mr. Hargrove was well cast in this role because it seemed so natural for him to play this character. He was funny, his singing was present and he captured the playfulness and heart of Donkey. Mr. Hargrove’s ad-libs had me giggling especially when they went over the heads of the kids in the audience. I’m not sure the audience appreciated him weaving the song “Work” by Rihanna into the show as much as I did. Ms. Alana Simone’s voice as Mama Ogre was great, but when she came back to play the Dragon I was floored. I could have listened to her sing as the Dragon the whole show. Her voice was smooth, strong and soulful. Slay Ms. Simone, slay! Ms. Melissa Ann Martin performed Fiona with earnest. Her powerful yet sweet voice was well matched to her character. Lastly, Mr. Dean Davis performance as Shrek was somewhat inconsistent. I wanted to see more from his performance and I felt like he needed to punch through just a bit. The vocal characterizations were there, costume and make-up were spot on and his movement felt like Shrek, but the overall performance was lacking the spark that I expected to see from such a vibrant character. I didn’t feel the emotion during his songs like I would have liked and the character got a little lost between Mr. Hargrove’s and Ms. Martin over the top performances as Donkey and Fiona respectively.
Ensemble member Mr. Angel Duque played Pinocchio well. His high pitched voice and characterizations captured the essence and playfulness of Pinocchio from the movie. I also want to give a shout out to one of the young female dancers in the ensemble. I don’t know who she was, but I was impressed with her stage presence and dancing in every scene where she performed. She stood out among the crowd and I wished everyone on stage had the same level of enthusiasm, energy and showmanship that she exuded. My favorite scene in the production was with the three Fionas: Young Fiona (Charlotte Thiessen), Teen Fiona (Heidi Thiessen) and Adult Fiona (Melissa Ann Martin). Both Misses Thiessens had beautiful voices that carried well in the theater. If this is the future of musical theater, then I want a front row seat. Together with Ms. Martin their harmonies were lovely and pitch perfect. They gave me chills.
On the technical side of the house, my hat goes off to the costume team of nine individuals, that’s a lot to list here! There were a crap-ton of characters to dress in this show including both adults and children. And by crap-ton I mean 40+ people some playing multiple characters. The costumes were well made, storybook character appropriate and full of vivid colors. Dragon puppet designer Mr. Jeffery Holub created a large beautiful puppet manipulated by five people. It came alive on stage both in color and in movement. What a feat!
Dance choreography by Mr. Jason M. Kimmell and Tap choreography by Ms. Karen Daniels was straight-forward and well executed by the performers. I especially enjoyed the Duloc dance scene and the tap dancing rats. Scenic design by Mr. Stephen Napp and Ms. Annmarie Pallanck was a simple yet effective use of painted wheeled flats. I would have like to see more focus and detail though. I didn’t feel transported into the magical world which most often falls on the shoulders of set design. Also the timing between scene changes made the play feel longer than it needed to be.
One technical aspect that needed improvement was the lighting. I didn’t see a lighting designer listed in the program and maybe that was part of the problem. The lighting was functional and did not evoke any feeling or set the mood for each scene. The stage lights were either all on, a spot or two, or all off. I would have liked to see a bit more nuance and color changes that echoed the action and emotion on stage. The music however was stellar. I couldn’t tell if the music was live or recorded. Either way, the music was preppy and the musical arrangement and harmonies were expertly put together especially with such a large group of mixed ages and abilities thanks to musical director Ms. Kathryn Weaver and musical supervisor Mr. Nathan Scavilla.
Overall, the production had its ups and downs, but the message of Shrek the Musical rang through. The song lyric “Let your freak flag fly” was a reminder that we all need to own our own truth and accept what makes us unique. Shrek the Musical was an endearing story that teaches kids to be who they are in the face of haters and Charm City Players captured that sweetly. Who knew a musical about a green Ogre had such a positive message hidden inside? I guess I need to get out more.
Should I stay or should I go? Go if you are bringing the kids and you want them quieted for a few hours by something other than an electronic device. The show is fun, has a great message and showcases a solid ensemble cast. The overall production was uneven, but sometimes you have to see past the flaws to get to the beauty that lies within. — Z
Three shows left! Now playing in residency at Mercy High school at 7:30pm on March 23rd and 2:00pm matinees on March 24th and 25th. Running time is approximately 2 hrs and 35 mins. http://www.charmcityplayers.com/