The Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series supplies a highly entertaining local premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist-librettist David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2008 Tony Award-nominated “Shrek The Musical,” based on the 2001 Academy Award-winning film of the same name and presented at the Victoria Theatre.
Fluidly directed by Stephen Sposito with lively choreography by Chris Bailey, “Shrek” arrives in Dayton with an appealing intimacy and a sharper connection to the source material, two elements enabling this refreshing tour to surpass the more opulent, excessive Broadway incarnation. In fact, Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire’s witty, tuneful score (wisely retaining “Welcome to Duloc” and “I’m A Believer” from the film) has an added bonus here thanks to “Forever,” a new Act 1 solo for the intimidating Dragon reminiscent of the 1960s R&B vibe permeating Tesori’s marvelous 2004 musical “Caroline, or Change.” A pure diva moment featuring terrific puppetry and awesome offstage vocals from Courtney Daniels, “Forever” replaces the bombastic “Donkey Pot Pie,” which proved problematic on Broadway. Still, “Shrek,” attractively visualized by scenic artist James Kronzer, costumer Austin K. Sanderson and lighting designer Paul Miller, is at its best when poking fun at musical theater conventions (paying homage to “42nd Street, “Gypsy,” “Les Miserables,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked” among others) in addition to conveying the humor and heart within the titular green ogre’s life-changing journey of love, friendship and acceptance.
The amiable Perry Sook, a fine singer and charming presence, is perfectly cast as the funny, crude Shrek, whose solitary life is turned upside down when he’s asked to save a princess in order to reacquire his swamp. Sook, who manages to emote despite heavy makeup, effectively displays Shrek’s independent nature, the total exasperation of being attached to his endlessly fussy yet faithful sidekick Donkey (excellent Wright State University alum Jeremy Gaston) and the sudden feelings of romance that arises as he grows to care for the feisty yet fetching Princess Fiona (the amusingly first-rate Whitney Winfield, a lovely soprano). In winning fashion, Sook, Gaston and Winfield fully comprehend the meaningful bond between their engaging characters, particularly Shrek and Fiona’s shared sense of childhood abandonment.
Also, the flamboyant, audience-friendly Christian Marriner is an absolute hoot (and gives his knees an impressive workout) as the diminutively domineering Lord Farquaad, who ruthlessly rules the kingdom of Duloc. Schuyler Midgett (Gingy, Sugar Plum, Teen Fiona), Tony Johnson (Pinocchio) and Wright State alumna Tiffani Robbins (Ugly Duckling) are among the standout fairy tale oddballs who deliver wonderful renditions of “Story of My Life” and the exuberant, life-affirming “Freak Flag.” Musical director Kevin Casey leads a skillful orchestra.
By embracing individuality and true love as it is meant to be, “Shrek” strikes an endearing chord with children and adults alike.
“Shrek The Musical” continues through Jan. 27 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 70 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $15-$86. Patrons are advised that the show is recommended for children 6 and up. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com