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Shrek The Musical

Unabashed good fun from the traveling production of a Broadway show

The theater was filled with the unbridled laughter of 3,000 people on the opening night of Shrek the Musical at Shea’s on Tuesday. This madcap tale of an ogre named Shrek who is sent on a quest to rescue a princess is based on a book that became a popular series of animated films. The story, slimmed down and simplified, lends itself to the musical stage. When the show opened on Broadway, with the talents of Brian D’Arcy James as Shrek, Sutton Foster as Fiona, and Christopher Sieber as evil Lord Farquaad, notices were mixed, but I found it delightful. Its deranged mix of fractured fairy tales and Broadway shtick from generations past lent the festivities an unhinged, Marx Brothers, 1930s flair.

Eric Petersen brings to vivid life the Shrek of the animated film.

I am pleased to say that the national tour, now at Shea’s demonstrates that the show has managed to settle in and ripen since I first saw it. As is often the case, I think the tour allows Shrek to be even more the musical that it should have been than it was when stakes were high and millions were originally being spent on Broadway. (Another recent example of this would be the charming and evenly proportioned national tour of Mary Poppins, which I found to be grotesquely misshapen on Broadway).

A testament to the strength of the touring company would be the fact that we saw no fewer than seven replacement actors last night in a company that only employs five swing (or substitute) performers. You would never have known. Sandra Denise was sublime as Princess Fiona—alternately delicate and tomboyish, refined and vulgar, we fall in love with her right along with the ogre, Shrek.

David F. M. Vaughn is fantastic as pint-sized Lord Farquaad, cavorting in a costume that requires him to shuffle on his knees all evening. An associate of mine noted that you might expect that such a hokey bit would wear thin quickly, but it never does. That is the genius of Shrek, to squeeze every laugh from every possible source.

This touring production looks splendid with the exception of one really cheesy effect, when at the climactic moment when the dragon finally picks off Lord Farquaad. Happily, the winceable moment is fleeting and does nothing to diminish our merriment over the long haul.

Eric Petersen is truly marvelous as Shrek. He is the film Shrek burst into life—endlessly appealing and spectacularly funny. Alan Mingo, Jr. successfully translates the manic talking donkey into three dimensions and is likely to be a favorite, especially of children—and there were blissfully happy (and astonishingly well behaved) children in abundance. Kids seemed to be as pleased by the spectacle and Lord Farquaad’s knee-high height as they were by multiple fart jokes—yes, we do stoop that low for laughs in this decidedly lowbrow comedy.

The Shea’s audience, always vocal in its approval, responded loudly and voraciously to numerous musical theater references, in particular to some visual gags evoking The Lion King. While Gypsy references may have slipped past all but drama critics and diehard musical theater fans, references to Dreamgirls and other shows of later vintage are easy and enjoyable pickings.

In short, Shrek is a fantastically good time, and the magnificently responsive Buffalo audience—unafraid to laugh, to clap, to cheer, and to carry on—added to the fun.

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