Shrek is layered like an onion
Last Thursday, Shrek: The Musical premiered at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater. While it’s not Broadway’s next big hit, the musical is a solid two hours of laughs for the whole family. Long story short, Shrek is about an ogre who must rescue Princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad in return for some peace and quiet. While the original movie thrived on action and comedy, the musical dives into character development.
Shrek the ogre (Billy Mason) is still crude and sarcastic, but the rest of the cast have subtleties that prevent the musical from being a carbon copy of the movie. Shrek’s sidekick, Donkey (David Toole), is even more hyper than the donkey voiced by Eddie Murphy, Princess Fiona (Emily Lynne Miller) is somewhat bipolar and more ridiculous than her movie counterpart, and Lord Farquaad (Tim Hartman) has been transformed into a fierce diva. However, side characters, such as Pinocchio, are essentially identical to their movie counterparts, and the musical could have benefited from spicing up those characters.
The musical follows the same tactics as the movie — there are fart jokes for the kids with sprinklings of dark humor to keep older audience members engaged. Some lines were taken straight out of the movie, but the musical has plenty of fresh scenes up its sleeve. Fine moments include Donkey’s rap solo, Fiona’s violent tussle with wildlife, and Farquaad’s perplexing interactions with his lackeys. All scenes are backed up by strong vocals and general talent.
That being said, some scenes don’t translate well from the movie to the musical. Shrek’s battle with the dragon, now reduced to an odd, shaking head on wheels, has been turned into a hypnotic spectacle involving Shrek flailing his body, lights flashing, and Fiona singing in the foreground. Strobe lights are often used during critical moments, turning serious scenes unintentionally funny. However, these odd scenes add a certain charm to the musical.
Lackluster sets and average costumes really hold the musical back. Many sets are merely painted backgrounds, sometimes with a prop or two to switch things up. Costumes are decent, but a few are mildly terrifying. While playing Shrek, Mason wears an ogre suit that made me uncomfortable whenever I looked into his eyes.
Hartman’s Farquaad outfit definitely stands out among the rest. The painfully short character is played by a tall actor on his knees. Fake skinny legs are strapped onto the actor’s thighs, while the rest of the real legs are hidden by black fabric and a cape. Farquaad’s outfit is generally impressive, though also fuel for nightmares.
Despite these drawbacks, Shrek: The Musical is worth seeing. The musical has so-bad-it’s-good scenes, along with genuinely clever moments. For Shrek diehards, the musical is a must see. For everyone else, the humor and story is strong enough to make the two hours fly by.
Shrek: The Musical will be showing in Byham Theater until Feb. 16.