Friday, April 20, 2012

An Updated Fairy Tale
A movie about animated characters has gone, left and is now touring after Broadway.  Well there have been cats, phantoms, drag queens, beasts, beauties, nannies, so why not an ogre or two?

A touring company of Shrek: The Musical recently stopped by Toronto.  I debating for a long while whether I wanted to see it.  Finally after listening to the music on YouTube, which I found charming, I decided to go.  Before the performance I got a copy of the Broadway cast recording and listened to it repeatedly.  Having not seen the movie for quite some time there was enough in the songs to put the story line back together and I found all sorts of material that made me smile.

Merritt David Janes and the Duloc Dancers
The actual production included even more of these humourous tones that made the story entertaining for the adults, and particularly those familiar with other musical theatre.  For example, Shrek and Donkey sing "The Travel Song" which in the recording has a shout out to Puss in Boots, but also in the show had some animals spinning around a wheel while "Circle of Life" played.  The sets, particularly in this song were nothing fancy, a tad tacky compared to the others even, with just a piece of cloth being pulled clothesline style as the characters "walked" in front of it.  Otherwise, while still simple, the sets were effective, as trees moved around the stage, and one backdrop gave great perspective to Lord Farquaad's dungeon during "The Ballad of Farquaad".  I'm not sure if it's brought out in the movie or not, but on first hearing the line "Father was Grumpy" full of double meaning cracked me up, as did Mr. Janes' antics on his knees as the "compensating for something" (according to Shrek and Donkey) Lord Farquaad.  His ending of "What's Up Duloc" with the "no one's going to bring me down" quotation from "Defying Gravity" in Wicked was very prominent and there were moments from A Chorus Line in there too.  The Les Miserables allusion was impossible to miss in "Freak Flag" where the red Les Mis flag was replaced with a green one featuring a variation on the famous Cosette symbol, it was flown proudly at the end of "Freak Flag".

Andre Jordan (
Andre Jordan was great at portraying the "chatty as a parrot, more annoying than a mime" sidekick.  He showed off his skills in the aforementioned "Travel Song" and I particularly liked his "I'll Cover You" and "Take Me or Leave Me" from Rent segments in "Don't Let Me Go".  Another example of the theatre references. (links are to the Broadway version with fancy turn table set)

Liz Shivener
When Liz Shivener as Princess Fiona launched into "I Know It's Today" (one of my favourite songs!) I thought I was listening to Sutton Foster from the Broadway cast.  She sounded so similar!  What at incredible voice and only 24 years old!  "Morning Person" with her over exuberance in singing with the bird and dancing with the deer were certainly unexpected from just listening to the music.  As were the tap dancing rats.  The rats on the dancers shoes were so good just peaking out under the curtain before "growing".  I have no idea what happened above the characters knees, I was too busy trying to identify tap steps from their feet.  It was hard to tell if they were wearing tap shoes, but the sounds didn't always seem to be matching the feet, so I'll guess the taps were dubbed in to give it a bigger sound.  Ms. Shivener was also very believable as a feisty princess.  Really I think Fiona was the highlight of the show for me.

Lukas Poost getting "shreked"
But what about Shrek you say?  Well Shrek was an ogre, albeit with a very nice voice courtesy of Lukas Poost, another up and coming star at 23.  He had a booming sound in "Big Bright Beautiful World" was appropriately crude and charming throughout and both nailed and drew you in to "Who I'd Be" (link is Ben Crawford singing, who took over the roll on Broadway from Brian d'Arcy James.  I adore Ben's voice!  In real life it's way better than the quality here).  Shrek and Fiona's one-up manship duet "I Think I Got You Beat" reminded me of the Irving Berlin songs where the two sections are sung at the same time and magically fit together. Not to mention the quirkiness of both sets of lyrics: Shrek to Fiona "you're just whiny, I had a flaming hiney" (in reference to the "mobs with pitchforks, [who] burned [his] britches, see the scorches").  Personally Shrek's being sent away at 7, wins hands down over Fiona missing her prom.

I went to check out the orchestra pit during intermission and was surprised to find the conductor, Kevin Casey, chatting with kids in the front row and others who came for a look too.  Typically the orchestra doesn't seem to interact at all with the audience, especially the conductor.  He was asking them about their favourite musicals and how they liked the show so far.  Even the drummer got into it when one of the kids said they hadn't heard him, so he said he'd play even louder and break a few sticks.  One of the reed players (with about 3 saxes, a few clarinets, flute, and possibly something else) had a book beside his chair.  Joanne Fluke's "Blueberry Muffin Murder".  I don't think I've seen anyone else read that series besides me.  A good choice of fluff reading to pass the time you're not playing.  I didn't detect any missing sounds, so I guess he  didn't get too involved in the "who done it" to miss his entrances.

The show is fun, even if the scene with the Dragon got a bit repetitive with the going around in circles, probably a larger stage would have helped.  It's not a fantastic piece of Broadway marvel to break any new boundaries, and with the pop references who knows if it'll be fresh 10 years from now.  But as Shrek said it's about time fairy tales were updated and this update fits the bill.

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