Reviewed by Joan Tupponce
Fans of musicals and Shrek fans, I have just one thing to say: Make a beeline for Virginia Rep’s Shrek: The Musical. If you’re hesitating because you think it’s a kids’ show, think again. This thoroughly entertaining, whimsical musical appeals to all ages!
For those who haven’t seen the Shrek films, Shrek is a large, green ogre who shuns any kind of contact or interaction. To his dismay, Lord Farquaad, who hopes to marry Princess Fiona and be king, has banished all the quirky storybook characters to Shrek’s swamp. He decides to pay the would-be king a visit and along the way meets the very spirited Donkey who begs to tag along. In order for Lord Farquaad to clear his swamp, Shrek must rescue Princess Fiona and bring her to the palace. And therein starts Shrek’s metamorphosis. That old saying “love will find a way” gets tested but wins in the end when Princess Fiona finds her true love.
Director and choreographer Robin Arthur manages a large cast and does it with finesse. There is not a weak link in this production, from main character to ensemble. And while the show is geared toward kids around six and up, it has enough tongue-in-cheek fairytale jokes and sly pop-culture jabs to have attention-paying adults laughing as loud as the kids do at the belching and gaseous contest between Fiona and Shrek.
The ensemble actors in the production, who portray several different fairytale characters, are top notch. Individually and collectively their voices shine, especially in their highly charged, upbeat rendition of “Freak Flag.”
In both her ensemble role and her role as the Dragon, Ashlee Arden Heyward sings like a Grammy-award winning veteran. Her voice, especially in her role as the dragon, shakes the rafters in a rousing, sing-it-again way. Matt Shofner has lots of fun in his role as Pinocchio as do young Ellie Wilson and Hanna Clinton who bring energy and enthusiasm to their respective roles as young and teen Fiona.
Robert King displays great showmanship in the role of the dwarf-like Lord Farquaad. Wearing a costume with short, squatty built-in legs, he has to maneuver around the stage on his knees but that doesn’t stop him from delivering some of the richest vocals of the night.
Ronnie Brown is an absolute hoot as Donkey. His mannerisms and inflections are as entertaining as his dance moves, especially in the fun “Make a Move” where he dons sunglasses and channels Barry White. Jason Marks and Aly Wepplo were perfectly cast as Shrek and Fiona. They literally brought the characters from the screen to the stage. Marks embodies the essence of Shrek on stage. Even though he’s gruff and pushes people away, you always know he has a good heart. Wepplo mesmerizes in her role as Fiona. She is a true entertainer.
Brian Barker’s set adds all the right fairytale elements to the show. Elizabeth Weiss Hopper’s costumes are amazing, everything from the plumes on the Wicked Witch’s corset to the dragon’s hot, flaming red ensemble. This show wouldn’t have the pep and the charm that it has without her creations. While kids in the audience were attentive throughout the play, two-and-a-half hours later, a few youngsters were fidgeting in their seats.
Shrek: The Musical is an absolute delight and one of those shows you’ll want to see more than once. It runs through April 27 at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre of Virginia at Willow Lawn.
You can listen to Joan’s review on the Idea Stations, just click WCVE