Scene stealers galore in Shrek the Musical

There’s a moment in Shrek the Musical when the featured green ogre tells his faithful sidekick Donkey that ogres, like onions, have many layers.

That’s also true of Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s staging of the musical itself, which delivers plenty of comedy, heart…and farts? Yes, the story is not afraid to get a little juvenile in its attempt at humor; in fact, one of the production’s best songs, “I Think I Got You Beat,” begins as a sorrowful tale of child abandonment and loneliness and culminates in a farting and burping contest between Shrek and Princess Fiona.

Russell Sunday as Shrek and Calvin McCullough as Donkey (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

Russell Sunday as Shrek and Calvin McCullough as Donkey (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

And while the song generated lots of laughs—especially from the younger audience members—the show’s humor isn’t all immature. The fun-loving stage adaptation by author-lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori relies on wisecracks, slapstick, sight gags and misdirection to enliven this familiar beauty-and-the-beast love story.

highlightpencilBased on DreamWorks’ 2001 animated film, the story of Shrek adheres closely to the movie: An ogre loses his swamp to fairytale creatures who have been kicked out of their homes by the evil Lord Farquaad so Shrek heads to the Disneyesque land of Duloc to express his displeasure and the villainous lord makes him a deal—rescue the beautiful princess being kept in a tower, guarded by a dragon, and he can have the deed to his swamp.

What follows is basically a nod to the old buddy road-movies as Shrek travels with the sometimes annoying/always got-your-back Donkey on his quest, rescues the princess and falls in love with her on the journey back.

As Shrek, Russell Sunday provides a healthy balance between the gruff side of the unlikely hero and the tender-hearted monster. You feel Shrek’s emotional pain in songs like “Build a Wall” and “Big Bright Beautiful World” and Sunday has the perfect deep Scottish accent that brings a likeability to the role. It’s not always easy to sound strong when you’re heavy in costume and make-up, but Sunday manages to seem forceful, yet vulnerable as the story progresses.

Fionas: (l-r) Samantha Yakaitis, Coby Kay Callahan and Amanda Kaplan (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

Fionas: (l-r) Samantha Yakaitis, Coby Kay Callahan and Amanda Kaplan (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

Coby Kay Callahan is an absolute delight as Princess Fiona, providing plenty of smiles in the song “Morning Person” and shining on “This is How a Dream Comes True.” One of the best moments in the musical comes when we see the passage of 20 years of Fiona being locked in the tower through the song, “I Know It’s Today” performed by young Fiona (Samantha Yakaitis) teen Fiona (Amanda Kaplan) and Callahan. The three harmonize the last verse together and it’s a lovely song that will stick with you for days.

Calvin McCullough practically steals the show as Donkey, providing laughs, some nifty footwork and the voice of reason in the script. This is a role that could easily have been too over the top, but McCullough knows when to pull back and doesn’t resort to being too zany to get the cheap laugh.

Jeffrey Shankle is brought to his knees, literally, as the diminutive, overcompensating villain Lord Farquaad. Perhaps the hardest part in the production to pull off, he performed the role on his knees so as to appear as if he’s only two-feet tall but that didn’t stop Shankle from dancing, cackling and reaching great heights with his comic timing. Throughout the show, he improvised several one-liners and had people howling.

Highly Recommended
SHREK THE MUSICAL
Closes June 22, 2014
Toby’s Dinner Theatre
5900 Synmphony Woods Road Columbia
Tickets: $51 – $56 (includes dinner/brunch)
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
or call 800.888.6297
The production was directed with much aplomb by co-directors Lawrence B. Munsey and Kevin McAllister, who had a winning chorus of supporting characters to work with, including stock characters lifted straight from the fairy-tale warehouse, such as the fairy godmother, the Mad Hatter, the Three Little Pigs, Humpty Dumpty, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Bears and the Three Blind Mice.

Jeffrey Shankle as Lord Farquaad (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

Jeffrey Shankle as Lord Farquaad (Photo: Kirstine Christiansen)

Ashley Johnson in particular stood out as the voice of the Dragon, but props also go out to Shane McCauley as Pinocchio, who chose to follow the original Broadway choice of voicing the role completely in falsetto, and was marvelous leading the supporting cast in “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag.”

Speaking of the dragon, puppeteers Ellie Borzilleri, AJ Whittenberger and Ariel Messeca did an outstanding job maneuvering the bigger-than-life dragon on the stage. Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins creates a wondrous fairytale world in Toby’s limited space and the theater-in-the round aspect works incredibly well.

The choreography by Shalyce Hemby offers bright moments, including an inspired “rat dance” and some fun numbers involving the residents of Duloc. Meanwhile, costume Designers Lawrence B. Munsey and Janine Sunday provided plenty of colorful whimsy that personified the fairytale world.

Shrek the Musical ends with a lively, crowd-pleasing number of “I’m a Believer” and will have you dancing on out the theater. As family-friendly productions go, this is one musical with a great storybook ending.

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More reviews:

Mark Beachy . MDTheatreGuide
Steve Charing . OUTspoken
Mike Giuliano . Baltimore Sun
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts 

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