Review: Music Hall Gets Make Ogre with SHREK

With all the talk on Broadway about SPIDERMAN’s medga-budget problems, it’s refreshing (and fun) to see what the second biggest payout in Broadway history hath wrought.

That would be Dreamworks’terrific new musical SHREK.

You’re in luck, Kansas City– the big green one is Music Hall bound. And whereas the Spidey show sounds like it’s full of angst, U2-ie important messages and actors breaking bones, SHREK is a musical comedy gas— and actors breaking wind.

Drawing on their oh so successful animated franchise, Dreamworks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg and company drafted top Broadway tunesmith Jeanine (THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE) Tesori and hip scribe David Lindsay-Abaire (fans will remember his wacky FUDDY MEERS at the Unicorn a few seasons back) to bring their ogre and his swamp pals to musical theater life. Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire more than rose to the occasion, offering a great theater piece, smartly directed by AVENUE Q alum Jason Moore and Broadway choreography champ (yep, Dreamworks went out and hired both of them) Rob Ashford. That’s spending Broadway money the RIGHT way.

I caught the SHREK national tour recently during its Chicago premier, and it’s a great production. As you’d expect in any show about the big, green guy, there’s plenty of fart jokes,. Dare I call these notes “refreshing” on the sometimes too self-absorbed Broadway scene? More important, though, this SHREK has lots of heart, too.

Eric Petersen does a terrific job limning the eponymous role that Brian D’Arcy-James nailed on Broadway, and it’s no wonder– Petersen stood by for the original ogre. KC Music Hall  habitues enjoyed him in SPELLING BEE at the Music Hall a few seasons back. He played Barfee, proving his comedy leading man chops way back then.

Eric’s leading lady is the lovely Haven Burton as Princess Fiona, another Broadway SHREK (and RENT) alum.  She gives as good as Shrek and brings a sweet yet sassy sensibility to the entire proceedings.  Alan Mingo, Jr. out-Murphies Eddie as Donkey. I saw Alan play Sebastian in Disney’s LITTLE MERMAID on Broadway. He stole that show; and he just about nabs the touring SHREK several times a night, too.

As much as I admired these performances, though, it’s the ensemble that kills in this (and the Broadway) SHREK.  Those Three Blind Mice, Pinocchio, Three Bears, Ugly Duckling, Big Bad Wolf et. al. were inspired inventions on film; in Lindsay-Abaire’s able comedy hands, they kick ass. “Freak Flag,” the swamp-critter’s anthem, has to rank as one of the funniest numbers in recent Broadway history. This handsome touring production pulls out all of the stops here, too.

Technical credits are all first rate, as you’d expect from Broadway’s second most expensive musical; the DREAMWORKS folks did not stint on this road show. SHREK plays the Music Hall Wednesday, Jan 12 through Sunday the 16th. Don’t stay too far far away from this musical comedy gem. Lord Farquaad (the estimable David Vaughn) and his minions summon you Downtown for all the fun.

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