Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
Take one slimy green ogre with a bad attitude, one less than delicate belching princess, one sassy donkey, and a vertically challenged would-be prince; add music and a set that is downright swampical and watch an odd fairy tale come true. But "Shrek the Musical" is more than a feel-good children's story with a twist: it digs deep into our inner mush to find out where inner beauty lies and how we recognize our self-worth.
Based on William Steig's 1990 children's book that became the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature, "Shrek the Musical" goes much further than similar cartoon movies, such as "Beauty and the Beast." After all, if the beast gets someone to love him for who he is, the spell is then broken and he turns into the handsome prince. Underneath Shrek's grungy, pot-bellied green décor and innate grouchiness is, well, Shrek, and he doesn't turn into anything.
Told at the tender age of seven by his parents that there are friends and fortunes to be made in this "Big, Bright, Beautiful World," but not for him 'cause he's too ugly, they send Shrek away to find his own way in the world and caution him not to scare too many people or he may get killed. So with a face that not even a mother can love, Shrek retreats to a disgusting swamp where no one can criticize his ogre-like ways.
One of those ways is eating trespassers, but there come too many to count. All the fairy tale characters we've grown up with, led by Pinocchio, explain that they've been banished by Lord Farquaad from the Kingdom of Duloc and Shrek is next for displacement. Holding his deed to the swamp, Shrek sets out to meet the less than regal prince and fight.
To get the intruders off his land, Shrek agrees to be little Lord Farquaad's knight and rescue Princess Fiona from the tower surrounded by lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, for only if he marries a real live princess can he become king.
And why would a beautiful princess be locked in a tower for 20 years, missing all those royal balls and lessons in social graces? Because she's under a spell of course. She's also no ordinary princess. Having been just as isolated as Shrek, her behavior is decidedly un-princess-y. Fiona's a jeans and flannel shirt kind of gal, and she wants a pre-nup. So when she and Shrek journey to Farquaad's castle, it doesn't surprise him that she goes into hiding as soon as the sun goes down. He doesn't' know it's the curse: she would take the form of her true love, when she finds him. And you know who it turns out to be.
In this multifaceted tale, nothing is as it seems. Layers of defense mechanisms are broken down and twisted inside-out till the characters meet their demons, both real and imagined, and conquer their fears once and for all. Learning to love one's self, and learning to love others for the content of their character, not the color of their skin (in this case, green), is the message that rings loud and clear.
Singing those messages is the amazing Sutton Foster who gives Fiona her edge. Brian D'Arcy James plays Shrek with heart and soul, covering up his own handsomeness to discover his character's deeper meanings. Daniel Breaker, who recently played Stu's young alter-ego in "Passing Strange," makes Donkey a real sassy ass. And Christopher Sieber's knees get quite a workout playing the diminutive Lord Farquaad.
"Shrek the Musical" delights and works with an upbeat score by Jeanine Tesori, and moving book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Move aside Disney. Dreamworks is giving you competition with this wonderful family show.
(Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus)
BEN BRANTLEY for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Leaden fairy-tale-theme costume party."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, "Fine, not great. The same goes for the score."
BARBARA HOFFMAN for NEW YORK POST says, "It takes nearly all of Act 1 before 'Shrek: The Musical' starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive
JOHN SIMON for BLOOMBERG says, "In this score, there isn’t a single distinguished melody...The book manages well enough...So why isn’t 'Shrek the Musical' great? Ask anyone over 12 and you’ll be told why."
ELYSA GARDNER for USA TODAY says, "Shrek is pretty grand entertainment."
LINDA WINER for NEWSDAY says, "Sweet and busy, nice and big, and, every so often, extremely lovable."
ADAM R. PERLMAN for BACK STAGE says, "The lovely melodies are simple, often wistful."
ROBERT FELDBERG for THE RECORD says, "Certainly has its entertaining moments. It's a pity it's so hectic that it's hard to just sit back and enjoy them."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "The folks at DreamWorks have done their darndest to make sure we are entertained... For much of the time, they succeed."
FRANK SCHECK for HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says, "Is a fun, largely successful musical version of the first installment of the hugely successful film franchise."
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY says, "If the storytelling is bumpy in patches and the songs don't quite soar, the show never stints on spectacle or laughs."