Frothy and Forgetful Summer Fare: “Shrek the Musical”

Photo © Paul Lyden

Photo © Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on the DreamWorks Animation Motion Picture and the book by William Steig
Musical directed by Michael Gacetta (why does NSMT keep leaving their music directors off the main page?)
Direction by Michael Heitzman
Choreography by Mara Greer

July 7 – 19, 2015
62 Dunham Road
Beverly, MA
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Review by Craig Idlebrook

If you can’t smile at North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Shrek the Musical you really are an ogre, and I don’t mean the good kind that everyone cheers for to win the girl. However, if you can remember a song from this musical a few days after you watched it, you are a better reviewer than I. This production has all the trappings of a winsome summer blockbuster movie in that it’s something fun to watch while scarfing down popcorn with your family, but when the dazzle fades, there isn’t much there there.

The play is based on the lovable series of Dreamworks films, focusing on a curmudgeonly ogre who, despite his best intentions, finds true friendship and saves fairy tale characters from being hunted down and herded into a swampy ghetto. There are some subversively sublime plot points scattered in this children’s yarn, including that the prince initiating this fairy tale ethnic cleansing has a psychological chip on his shoulder from his own half-blood status and feelings of abandonment, and that the princess teaches us there are many different forms of beauty.

This production is tasked with bringing out the high-octane energy and spontaneity of a cartoon, and they are largely up to the task. It is this, rather than the forgettable songs and overlong script, which makes the play imminently watchable, even for the smallest among us. Lukas Poost unfortunately seems to need to psychically grow into his Shrek (and he’s not helped by some distracting makeup), but he’s helped along by the nicely off-kilter performance of Lauren Wiley as Princess Fiona; by the middle of the second act, the two are bouncing off each other, much to the audience’s delight. Another standout is Benjamin Howes as Lord Farquaad, the kingdom’s leader with the Napoleonic complex; despite acting on his knees, Howes somehow simultaneously infuses Farquaad with the dangerous demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy and the bumbling nicety of Dick Van Patten, and the effect is eerie. The ensemble cast brought such energy to their work that I found myself staring in fascination at even the palace guards, waiting for something funny to happen.

But this production fails to achieve memorable status because its music is so forgettable. Also, in the end, it’s not a cartoon, and there are some absurdly staged moments of action that adults couldn’t process, let alone children. My family and I left with smiles on our faces and that inevitable summer entertainment question, “That was good, right?”

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