(feature photo by Mark Garvin)
Shrek is an unlikely fairy tale. Sure, there’s a prince and a princess, some talking animals, and true love’s kiss. But in this story, a big, scary (but lovable) ogre and his sassy sidekick donkey set out to stand up for what’s right in a sweet tale about inner beauty and finding your own tribe of people.
I bet you know the story, though. Shrek the Musical came to Broadway in 2008 after the success of the movie of the same name (and it’s sequels). With eight Tony nominations and a few national tours under the show’s enormous belt, it’s no surprise that this must-see musical is now at Walnut Street Theatre (through January 5th) where it’s enchanting audience members of all ages.
As you take your seat at the theatre’s main stage, you’re immediately drawn into the magical set in front of you. No longer are you in Philadelphia; you’re in Shrek’s world- the kingdom of Duloc and the swamps just outside of town. Unfortunately, Shrek- who has lived most of his life alone and is quite fine with it- now has to deal with classic characters of beloved fairy tales moving in to his neck of the woods after they are exiled out of the kingdom for being “different”.
Enter Lord Farquaad, hilariously played by Walnut Street regular Ben Dibble. It’s worth pointing out that Dibble just finished his lead role in Young Frankenstein, which kicked off this season at the theatre, and immediately dove into the pint-sized role of the wanna-be king looking for his queen. I also commend Shrek’s actors for not breaking character and bursting into laughs anytime Lord Farquaad hobbled on to the stage. Spoiler alert- his father may be one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs!
When Shrek, played by Nichalas L. Parker, confronts the Lord and demands that the fairy tale characters move back into the kingdom (so he can be alone again), he receives an offer he can’t pass up. With the help of sassy, tell-it-like-it-is Donkey (played by Dana Orange), the duo set out to track down Princess Fiona and bring her to the Lord. Shrek’s journey turns out to be more complicated than it seems and he eventually realizes that being alone isn’t so much fun. He gains a best friend in Donkey, and just in case you don’t know the tale of Shrek, let’s just say the adventure turns out to be pretty life-changing.
Princess Fiona is played by Julia Udine who’s recent roles include Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera on tour and on Broadway, and here at the Walnut Street Theatre in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-woman show, Tell Me on a Sunday. If you’ve seen the ladder, you know that her voice is powerful and she’s, no doubt, Fiona. From “I Know It’s Today” (a stand-out song featuring Teen Fiona and Young Fiona singing along with her adult self) to “Who I’d Be” (where we learn more about Fiona’s cursed past), Udine believably transforms herself into the perfect flawed fairy tale princess.
Nichalas L. Parker was awesome as Shrek. I enjoyed his role in last season’s Civil War Stories and it was great to see him transform into everyone’s favorite ogre. His duets with Donkey (“Travel Song”) and Fiona (“I Think I Got You Beat”) were fun to watch and really showed off the dedication he put into his character. In “When Words Fail”, Shrek struggles with the ability to tell Fiona his feelings. It’s a lovely song and Parker does it well.
What’s great about this show is, it’s not just about Shrek and his quest to find a princess. Everyone is a star and other characters get their spotlights too. The Three Blind Mice shine (literally, amazing costumes) in “Make a Move” with Donkey, and a beautiful fire-breathing dragon (a large puppet who graces the stage with the help of some actors) gets her moment in “Forever”.
Shrek stresses the importance of being who you are and constantly reminds the audience that inner beauty is what matters most. “Freak Flag” is an incredible song featuring Pinocchio (played by Adam Hoyak) and other fairy tale characters encouraging viewers to adhere to the motto “you do you”. We all have our quirks, our likes/dislikes, our specific little hobbies or obsessions that no one else has. We all look different, we all act different. But that is okay! No matter who we are or what we look like, no one deserves to be kicked out of their home or forced out of a community. Kindness and friendship move this story along, as it should with all stories.
This is a really funny, uplifting show for families to enjoy together for the holiday season. If you enjoy a good “root for the underdog” story and a bit of innocent bathroom humor (because, who doesn’t?), this is the perfect show for you. You know what else is perfect- the gift of a ticket! So, head to the Walnut Street Theatre’s website and pick up a few! Who wouldn’t want to celebrate with Shrek, Fiona, Donkey and all of their magical friends?
Don’t rush out of the theatre and back to the real world when the second act ends, though. While all of the songs in Shrek are really catchy, the one you can really rock out to is “I’m a Believer” (you know the Smashmouth rendition from the movie). So hang out a bit and sing along with the cast during the curtain call.