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New York City Theater

"Shrek The Musical"
Broadway Theater

To what has the American musical come? Instead of original work, we get film adaptations and jukebox shows. Take the case of “Shrek The Musical.” Based on the beloved animated movie series (which was, in turn, based on the tale by William Steig), it’s funny and eye-catching. Yet it’s also slight, featuring cheerful jokes that children love about belching and breaking wind.

To its credit, it throws in enough winks to keep adults amused, even jabbing at George Bush (“Don’t blame me, I voted for Old King Cole”). But the once-upon-a-time story about a homely ogre, his donkey sidekick and the beautiful princess with whom he falls in love is more a bunch of sketches than an integrated theater piece. It works better on film.

Actually, the show wakes up, fully and gloriously, at the beginning of Act II. Here, Fiona, as impersonated by delicious Sutton Foster as a wise but bubble-headed darling, goes into her dance with a chorus of mice. Singing how she’s a “Morning Person,” Foster and friends are delightfully ditzy.

Meant to be as daffy are the peripheral refugees from other fairy tales like Peter Pan, the White Rabbit and Humpty Dumpty. Then there’s Pinocchio whose “I’m wood. I’m good. Get used to it” is an indication of the show’s sly stab at relevance. “Freak Flag,” a song about being oneself no matter how seemingly different, champions gay rights, leading to the show’s thematic “The things that make us special make us strong.”

Sprinkled throughout are jokes about other shows like “Wicked” and “The Lion King.” Camp vies with sentiment with the delightful Christopher Sieber as a giddy Lord Farquaard carrying the camp flag (and playing most of the evening on his knees to show his small stature). Daniel Breaker is a sassy Donkey (“I’m like a GPS with fur”), but the wonderful Brian D’Arcy James is smothered by his Shrek makeup.

Neither David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics nor Jeanine Tesori’s music throw caution to the winds and break out of the film’s confinements. But director Jason Moore concocts a harmless evening that the film’s fans should enjoy.

--David Rosenberg
Dec. 31, 2008

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