Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Coterie "Shrek the Musical" review by T.Winchester

Let Your Freak Flag Fly… Rating: 5

Shrek The Musical
The Coterie Theatre

The Coterie theatre's current production of "Shrek the Musical", directed by Jeff Church, accomplishes an amazing feat: it takes a Broadway show and transfers it to the Coterie's limited space so well that audience members shouldn't feel as if they have missed out on anything by not seeing the actual Broadway production.

I have to admit that my knowledge of this particular musical was limited to having seen a couple of the "Shrek" films quite a while ago. Armed with only this - and a seven-year-old who knows just about everything there is to know about the Shrek canon, I entered with wide open expectations. At the door, the children were presented with a complimentary storybook, which was a nice perk, since reading it gave us something to do in the 30 minutes before curtain time. Five minutes before the show started, Shrek, played by Dana Joel Nicholson, came out and interacted with the children in the audience by throwing a roll of toilet paper around and engaging in other impromptu shticks, which prepared them for the show and got them excited. Like the films, this production contains some jokes about flatulence and bathroom humor, which (as we all know) children think is the funniest stuff ever. And also like the films, there are musical numbers and humor that appeal to everyone, from the!
ages of seven to seventy.

Before discussing the performances, the set and costume designs for this production deserve special mention. After seeing the Coterie production, I was curious as to what the original Broadway version looked like, so I watched a couple of representative numbers that were available on YouTube. I was not only pleased at how the Coterie maintains the spirit and feel of the original set and costume designs, but also delighted at the innovation in how the creative team adapted the designs to fit the Coterie's needs and, in more than one instance, actually improved upon them.

Regarding the set design by Erin Walley, I was very impressed with not only the number of set pieces, but their quality. I don't know how the Coterie finds room backstage to hold them all, but they do. The stage itself is decorated like a generic forest, which provides a backdrop for moving in various large set pieces, including Shrek's outhouse and cave (which looks like a large mound covered in moss, flowers, and greenery - my companion, who happened to costume himself as Godzilla for Halloween, loved the Godzilla poster tacked on the wall inside); Castle Duloc, complete with moveable battlements and a stained-glass window that "shatters" in a spectacular scene; Princess Fiona's tower and the exterior of the castle in which she is confined; a large tree branch which is the focus of one song that (also according to my young companion) is an homage to "Angry Birds"; a barn placed strategically offstage in the midst of the audience that uses a scrim for an inventive revelation scene; and a very creative "mechanical" horse that Lord Farquaad rides on. The performers use the entire space, including the aisles, to bring the story out into the audience.

Adding to the spectacle of the set design are the gorgeous and inventive costumes by Georgianna Buchanan. Not only does the sheer number of costumes needed for this production deserve special mention, but the creativity in their design is of special note. The medieval spirit of the costumes - made larger-than-life and dazzling for this musical - are extremely arresting. In several instances, the innovation shown in their design (in my opinion) actually improves on the designs of the Broadway production. Instead of relying on heavy makeup for Shrek and Fiona, these two characters wear green stocking caps with "ears" that give them the look of the DreamWorks characters but also allow Fiona to transform quickly from a human-looking princess to an ogre and back again. The costume for Donkey, Shrek's sidekick, features boots for hind hooves and front "hooves", as well as a gorgeous set of long ears and a huge Mohawk-style forelock that makes the character funnier and sillier than he already is. Real innovation is also employed in the costume for Pinocchio, which is comprised of a wooden armature attached to the performer's costume with elastic bands that is worn over a black body suit. When Pinocchio moves, so do his wooden arms and legs, giving the impression that he is actually a wooden puppet. The Dragon in the original Broadway show was a large puppet; however, the Coterie production uses a live performer inside a dragon suit who is mounted on stilts; the costume has a large tail that works through puppetry to curve and coil around performers during the "Forever" number. Having a human performer's face appear in the costume "humanizes" the dragon, which could otherwise be potentially scary to the children in the intimate Coterie space.

Nicholson is a wonderfully entertaining Shrek, and his Scottish accent works well to remind the young members of the audience that this is the same grumpy character from the film. As Princess Fiona, Lauren Braton has tremendous expressiveness and a beautiful singing voice. The chemistry between these two main characters is excellent; not only are their duets lively and lyrical, but their comedic interaction keeps us laughing. As Lord Farquaad, Tim Scott rises to the occasion, capturing our attention when he is onstage by playing the diabolical nobleman with panache and tongue-in-cheek humor; it is a challenge to play a character that takes himself so seriously but who is so outwardly ridiculous (especially since he doesn't recognize the fact that he is no different from those whom he labels as "freaks"). Special notice also goes to Scott in the small role as the Eviction Guard, where the speech impediment he adopts makes the character even more ridiculous. As the Dragon, Enjoli Gavin does a marvelous job; her rich and resonant voice fills the space and really grabs our attention. The fact that she does all of this while balancing on stilts is even more remarkable. But perhaps the funniest performer is Tosin Morohunfola as Donkey; his comic timing and animated expressiveness are fantastic, and he seemed to be the favorite character of the children in the audience. Not only does he provide a nice foil to Shrek's character, but his athletic physical antics really capture our attention.

I'm not exactly sure about the exact running time of the show, but it seemed to be close to 75-80 minutes. Some of the smallest children in the audience (those under seven years old) were somewhat challenged when it came to keeping still and paying attention during the "slower" exposition scenes, but this show is really quick moving - and it is actually recommended for ages seven and above, so that is not really a fault of the production itself. The musical also has a tremendous message that really got to me at more than one point: it celebrates diversity, tolerance, and acceptance of others by teaching us that it is importance to recognize that it is okay to be different and to be yourself.

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