There are a lot of things to like about Shrek: The Musical at Boulder's Dinner Theatre. Here are some of them:
The Dragon. Manipulated by a handful of actors and with all her segments skillfully constructed and articulated, this Dragon is a major star, a riveting, literally huge presence. She's the work of puppet maker Cory Gilstrap of Imagined Creations. Best of all, she's blessed with the rich, seductive voice of the inimitable Amanda Earls. Her swoony response when the Donkey assures her "I Like a Big, Big Girl" — well, you have to hear it. And it's a blast when Earls cruises onto the stage at the end of the show to sing for us as herself.
The Dragon is the most spectacular of the special effects, but she's not the only one. Todd Debreceni's masks, which allow some personality to come through, Amy Campion's skilled scene design, and — as always — the inspired work of costumer Linda Morken, who creates all kinds of weird, comical fairy-tale characters, add immeasurably to the evening's pleasure.
Shrek: The Musical
Shrek: The MusicalPresented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 6, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, bouldersdinnertheatre.com.
Norrell Moore as Princess Fiona. Even as written, Fiona's no regular fairy-tale princess. Not many princesses would fall for a smelly, hulking guy with horns and a nasty green face. But Moore takes the role several steps beyond whatever the script requires, endowing Fiona with huge amounts of spring, cheek and sheer verve. One of the best moments of the evening — which also includes one of the few memorable songs — occurs when she and Seth Caikowski's Shrek hold a playful farting and belching contest: "Think I Got You Beat."
The balls-out, no-expense-spared approach. Perhaps the theater saved enough money on the last show, Sisters of Swing, which was essentially a three-woman concert, to splurge on this, but splurge director-choreographer Matthew D. Peters did. This is one of the largest casts I've seen locally, offering a feast of talent, all of them merrily singing, mugging and hoofing until Scrooge himself would have had to suck in his cheeks to keep from grinning.
The script and lyrics. These are by Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire, which means Shrek is way less dumb than the average Disney musical and full of clever, silly references: the Muffin Man, Swan Lake, Alice in Wonderland, the Pied Piper. A couple of moments are downright Monty Python-esque.
The message: Yes, it's the old chestnut that you should dare to be different and understand that though the world may ostracize you, your eccentricities represent your strengths and uniqueness. But the point is particularly persuasive when expressed by this grotesque troupe of misfits. I don't need to tell you (but I am, just in case you've been vacationing on the moon and have missed all the Shrek movies, games, costumes and toys) that Shrek is an ogre who's lived alone all his life. In the musical, he's sent by the damaged and cowardly Lord Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona — who has also been alone all her life. His sidekick, another outsider, is a donkey, and the ancillary performers are all fairy-tale characters cut loose from their moorings.
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All the leads. It's not just Moore and Earls. Caikowski plays Shrek with a pleasantly slight Scottish accent. It can't be easy expressing anything through all those layers of green latex, but the kindness and diffidence he projects provide a fine contrast with all the cavorting going on around him. In his furry gray donkey suit, Tyrell Rae is the perfect foil — posing, preening, whining, strutting and encouraging. Trapped on his knees, his lank black hair falling around his face, Scott Severtson has loads of evil fun as Lord Farquaad.
And a couple of criticisms. For the most part, the songs are mediocre — though that tends to be masked by how well they're delivered. You ache for a gorgeous love song, but you never get one. None of the numbers is likely to stick in your mind, except perhaps for "Freak Flag," which is so exhilarating I kept hoping for a reprise that never came. The requisite end-of-the-show uplift is provided by the Monkees' ancient "I'm a Believer," which seems a sad confession of composer Jeanine Tesori's deficiencies.
And though the show is perfect for children, it's long, and I did wonder how many of them would have the stamina to hang on till the end. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine any child resisting this production's spectacular joys. I sure couldn't.