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Presentation of ‘Shrek’ was good, but songs were muddled

By Christopher K. Conner

Bringing the popular DreamWorks character to the McCain Auditorium stage, “Shrek the Musical” converted the world of Shrek from a computer animated cartoon into a live action musical stage performance in two acts. A nearly full house was on hand to see Tuesday night’s performance.

The story follows Shrek and Fiona, an ogre and an princess respectively, that were both cast out by their families at the age of seven. Shrek made his way through the world and settled in a swamp near the town of Duloc. Fiona was left alone in a tower, guarded by a dragon and surrounded by a lake of lava.

In Duloc, Lord Farquaad has decreed that all freaks and fantasy creatures are banished from town and forced to relocate to the swamp Shrek calls his home. Characters from fairy tales and stories from Pinocchio and Peter Pan to Big Bad Wolf and the three little pigs are left in the swamp by armed guards. Presented with these interlopers, Shrek is convinced to go and see Farquaad to force him into moving the freaks back into Duloc so Shrek can return peace and quiet to his home.

On the way, Shrek inadvertently rescues a talking donkey from some of Farquaad’s men.  The talkative quadruped helps Shrek find his way to Duloc as a way of thanking him.

Shrek arrives in Duloc soon after Lord Farquaad has learned of Fiona. He hopes that by having Fiona rescued she will marry him and he can finally become a king in his own right. Farquaad plans on randomly selecting a resident of Duloc to do the rescuing on his behalf until Shrek enters town. Farquaad sees Shrek’s size and fearsome demeanor as perfect for the task and offers to give Shrek the deed to the swamp in exchange for Fiona. Seeing the challenge as little more than an annoyance, Shrek agrees and sets out to find the tower and rescue Fiona.

Despite continual insults and the brash nature of Shrek, Donkey continues to accompany the ogre to the tower. Once there, Donkey panics when confronted with the bridge that crosses over the lake of lava. Shrek, again comes to his aid and the act serves to cement their friendship, much to Shrek’s chagrin.

Inside the tower, Shrek puts on the helmet and takes the sword of a fallen knight and proceeds to scale the cliff beneath the room Fiona lives in. At the same time, Donkey confronts the guardian dragon and learns that she is very lonely and unloved. Trying to talk his way out of being incinerated, Donkey becomes the object of the dragon’s affection.

After climbing the sheer cliff, Shrek meets the princess, who has been waiting for twenty years for her prince to come, pretending to sleep in storybook fashion. Rather than the kiss and loving embrace she expected, Fiona is met with the brash manner of the ogre, his face still concealed by the knight’s helmet. Despite this divergence from the storybook ending she’d been promised, Fiona goes with Shrek back down the cliff.

Reuniting with Donkey, the trio flee the angry dragon, barely escaping the dragon’s tower. Fiona is told that though she thought she would marry her rescuer, she is actually meant to marry Lord Farquaad and readily accepts this because she has no idea who Farquaad is.

On the way back to Duloc, Shrek and Fiona attempt to one-up each other in a contest of who had the worse childhood and come to learn that beyond their difficult pasts, they also share a penchant for toilet humor. In fact the more time they spend together, the more they seem to be compatible despite their physical differences. Even that falls away when Donkey learns that Fiona spends her nights as an ogre because of a witch’s curse placed on her.

Misunderstanding Donkey and Fiona’s conversation about her condition, Shrek gives up any chance he has with Fiona and goes ahead to Dulac to tell Lord Farquaad to come and meet his princess.

Now angry at Shrek, Fiona tries to ignore Farquaad’s diminutive stature and suggests they get married immediately. Farquaad gives Shrek the deed to the swamp and returns to Dulac. Shrek returns to his swamp and kicks out all of the fairy tale creatures, but Donkey stakes his claim to half of the swamp they earned together. During the argument over this arrangement, Shrek learns that the insults he’d heard Fiona uttering were about herself, not him, he resolves to try and stop the wedding and profess his affections for the princess.

“Shrek the Musical”, from a performance and presentation perspective, was quite good. Particularly difficult aspects of an animated feature to reproduce on stage like the talking dragon and Farquaad’s tiny frame were handled very well.

On the other hand, the songs themselves were often difficult to understand. Of course the difficulty of singing while maintaining any semblance of Shrek’s faux Scottish accent should not be overlooked. Beyond Shrek’s obviously difficult delivery, there were parts of the more frenetic pieces, like “Freak Flag” where certain parts were so difficult to understand the jokes contained in the lyrics received no reaction from the audience.

The speaking parts were easy to understand, and contained several localized references that caused a very positive reaction from the audience. This cheering and laughter served to contrast the lack of reaction from similarly amusing content delivered during some of the singing numbers.

While I had expected that the musical parts of a performance like “Shrek the Musical” would be the strongest aspect of the show, in this case I was wrong. Even carrying this disadvantage, “Shrek” was a good deal of fun. Not every song was terrible and hard to understand. Some were entertaining in their own right. There was a bit of toilet humor that was much more amusing to my five-year-old than it was to me, but there were still plenty of other gags to enjoy.

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