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Shrek the Musical

Satirical Fairytale Fun

If it’s possible for a great pair of legs to steal a show, then Lord Farquaad’s short, floppy puppet gams are the hilarious highlight of DreamWorks’ screen-to-stage adaption, Shrek the Musical, based on the 2001 animated film.

Now at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, Shrek is chock full of wildly witty satirical fairytale humor. It refreshingly pokes fun at nearly every “once upon a time” character from Pinocchio to the Three Little Pigs to the Big Bad Wolf, and offers a delightfully funny twist to the stereotypical, storybook tale of the princess trapped in a tower waiting to be saved from an evil villain by a handsome hero.

Cleverly engaging enough for adults, while delightfully entertaining for the little ones, Shrek The Musical is a great bet for family-friendly holiday fun. Bright, colorful, fantasy character costumes, great song-and-dance numbers, and simple but dramatic storybook come-to-life sets light up the stage. Plus, there’s tons of randomly, unexpected humor.

Unfortunately, the show is not without its flaws. Aside from needing to work out sound issues and pump up the volume, the production suffers from overall inconsistency with pee-in-your-pants uproarious highs and flat-as-a-pancake lows. It’s a bit of a roller coaster with witty, unpredictable scenes and boringly foreseeable ones, inspiringly energetic actors then snooze-worthy performances. Thankfully, the good far outweighs the rough patches, making the show predominantly enjoyable.

One of the fantastic, comedic highlights of the show is David F.M. Vaughn, who plays Lord Farquaad, the extremely “short of stature,” self-absorbed evil antagonist. Played on his knees, Vaughn is a side-splitting site to behold, scooting around on stage with tiny fake legs dangling about. Any position that he maneuvers his fake gams, from spreading them like an eagle to dancing with them, is just awesomely funny. Plus, his comedic timing is spot-on.

Channeling Cheri Oteri from Saturday Night Live, Princess Fiona, played by the talented Haven Burton, is hilarious as the energetic, bipolar princess. One minute, she’s a stereotypical fairytale beauty singing, “I Know It’s Today” as she patiently waits to be rescued by that knight in shining armor. Next, she’s about to flip her lid because she’s been singing the same song since the age of seven — and she’s still waiting. When she finally hears her hero (Shrek) climbing up the tower to save her, Princess Fiona’s first action is to hide her bras! Although we’ve never seen that move in any bedtime story, it’s totally consistent with this musical’s over-the-top whimsy.

Burton, in Act 2, delivers one of the best performances of the show in the song “Morning Person.” Uber wired on six cups of coffee, she happily out-sings a bird (to death), then picks a buck up by its horns, merrily swings it about and then haphazardly tosses it. The Piped Piper’s tap dancing rats (or furry slippers on dancing actors) soon follow her in a highly entertaining, vaudeville-esque dance number.

Shrek, performed by Eric Peterson, is the big, loveable, grumpy, green ogre — and you totally believe he is one. His voice is powerful and probably the strongest of the cast. And Peterson is simply superb in the finale “I’m A Believer,” where he and the entire cast give a full throttle performance. You literally feel like you’ve just entered a rock concert and want to jump out of your seat and start dancing. Unfortunately, that awesome energy is missing throughout most of the show.

Also lacking in substance is Shrek’s sidekick, Donkey, played by Alan Mingo, JR. His one-note performance of the chatty, hyper needy, goof ball is disappointing and falls flat on adult audiences. However, wee ones may enjoy his antics.

Overall, Shrek The Musical is an entertaining screwball comedy for audiences of all ages. It’s surreal Alice in Wonderland-esque quality with a gaggle of storybook characters fighting to be seen as something more than freaks is undeniably fresh — and oh-so San Franciscan. Sure, good triumphs over evil, we learn that beauty is more than skin deep, and everyone lives happily ever after, but how they get there is so much more fun than any fairytale musical that’s come before.