Shrek! The Musical

8 Oct

Originally published in BusinessWorld’s Weekender here, October 2, 2014

Shrek the Musical runs only until October 12 (this weekend!) so watch it before it’s gone!

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Shrek-the-Musical-ticketsONE of the strengths of Shrek when it first came on the big screen in 2001 was its seamless ability to use parts of stories we already know to form a cohesive, yet totally different, narrative. Based on William Steig’s illustrated children’s book of the same title published in 1990, Shrek took the ogre and the repulsive princess into a different direction with unexpected plot developments and surprising characterizations. How many people knew that ogres can be sweet or that princesses can kick butt? No wonder, then, that when DreamWorks Pictures released the 90-minute animated comedy in May 2001, the returns on their $60-million production yielded more than eight times their initial investment. Not bad for a children’s cartoon.

Shrek The Musical came as an afterthought to the movie’s success story.

Conceptualized around the time the sequel, Shrek 2, was being produced, it has come into its own in the six years it has played on stage and on tour around the world. First produced for Broadway, the play, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, melded Steig’s tale of Shrek’s origin with a musical version of the animated feature. Over the years, Shrek The Musical has wisely honed and sharpened its wit and timing while still retaining the much-loved eccentricities of its characters.

Brought to the local stage by Atlantis Productions, Shrek The Musical takes the viewers into a nontraditional, subverted fairy tale/love story, destroying stereotypes in the process and having lots of fun while doing it. While Shrek appeals to many young children, much of the humor in the movie and play are also meant for adults. And so, while both features cater to children, there is no attempt to dumb down the wit and comedy.

On stage at the Meralco Theater, Shrek The Musical brings the pared-down, more restrained visuals of its West End counterpart and rightly brings the acting and singing to fore. Rycharde Everley, as Shrek the ogre, labors under heavy prosthetics and padding, but his exceptional singing voice brings the audience past the green skin and ugly façade.

Everley sings “Who I’d Be” and “When Words Fail” with so much tenderness that it moves audiences to shed a tear or two. When he reprises “Big Bright Beautiful World” towards the end and confesses his love for the princess, Everley completes the transformation of Shrek and changes the dynamics of his relationships with those around him.

There is great rapport on stage among Everley and his lead co-actors, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez as the non-archetype of a damsel-in-distress, Princess Fiona, and Nyoy Volante as the amazing, spunky Donkey. Ms. Valderrama-Martinez is the perfect foil for the lumbering ogre; she is lithe and beautiful, but strong, equally opinionated, and capable of emitting the most distressing body noises. Her voice is clear and melodic, able to summon sweetness and steel at the same time.

Princess Fiona’s solo, “Morning Person,” highlights this formidable faculty and showcases these seemingly disparate sides of the princess’ personality. Ms. Valderrama-Martinez’s comic timing is rivaled only by Mr. Volante as Shrek’s friend, Donkey (did I say he was superb?). This singer-turned-actor never ceases to amaze audiences with his character transformations. I have to hand it to Mr. Volante; his was Eddie Murphy’s Donkey down pat with touches of physical comedy local audiences lapped up appreciatively.

Jett Pangan as Lord Farquaad proves he need not compensate for anything. He is caustic and funny, albeit a little terrifying, too. As one who has to play his role on his knees, Mr. Pangan takes on this challenge gamely and proves that size and height play second fiddle to talent.

Shrek-the-Musical

Nowhere is this production’s rapport more evident than in the genius of its casting. There is the young Fiona (Arianna Everley) who sings like an angel, Dragon (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) with her compelling vocals, Pinocchio (Nel Gomez) with his endearing falsetto and lie-detecting nose, and the rest of the ensemble who form a most unusual cast of characters. Each has a strength that binds the show together. They bring texture, color, and added cheek to the layers of this fairy tale.

They weave the backdrop of Shrek’s journey from nasty ogre to one who learns to love with the story of misfits fighting for their right to live in dignity.

What makes Shrek The Musical delightfully delicious is the combination of wonderful acting and singing, remarkable stage design and props (that impressive dragon puppet is better than Broadway’s), and a story that resonates with many, never mind its fairy tale-esque perspective.

What’s more, it pushes this story with irreverence and is not afraid to make fun of itself with allusions to popular songs and shows to advance its storytelling. There’s a delightful poke at the recent Disney animated blockbuster Frozen, that had the kids yelling in glee and more references to popular shows like Les Misérables, Chicago and Wicked, among others.

Shrek The Musical is highly engaging and grows on its audience with repeated viewing. For an activity for the whole family, it’s hard to find a more engrossing way to spend the weekend than two hours and 30 minutes of fun and frolicking entertainment. In the famous words of the Babe’s Farmer Hoggett (and that which we borrow from a page in Shrek), “That’ll do, Shrek. That’ll do.”

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