Shrek the Musical, which is playing at PPAC through January 8th, is similar to Shrek the character in that they both have many and interesting layers; less like an onion and more like a parfait.
Based on the movie of the same name and the children's book by William Steig, Shrek tell the story of a lovable ogre who unwittingly falls in love with the fair Princess Fiona, whom he rescues from the proverbial tower. Shrek's new BFF is the smart-alecky Donkey. The duo, and soon the trio, embark on a "Hope and Crosby"-like road trip to deliver Fiona to the diminutive Lord Farquaad to be married. Once the princess is safely handed over, Shrek gets the deed to his swamp and everyone gets to live happily ever…oops.
Which part of Shrek might entertain you is hard to say. David Lindsay-Abaire's clever lyrics and witty wordplay are no match against fart jokes and sophomoric humor based on the word "ass". Jeanine Tesori's music is light and frothy. "Big Bright Beautiful World" is simply marvelous and infinitely hum-able. Kevin Casey and his band were swinging. The costumes and set are beautiful and vibrant. The dragon puppet was more mystical than I could have imagined. In its totality the visual is similar to a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; all up on one stage.
The cast of this non-equity tour that began in September 2011, all give fine, if not extraordinary, performances, with very little variation between the performance levels. Lukas Poost experiences the same challenges previous Shreks faced, as he earnestly struggled to bring realism to the foam and prosthetics. Liz Shivener, who appeared on PPAC's stage two years ago as "Belle" in Beauty and the Beast, has charm to spare as our heroine Fiona. Andre' Jordan keeps Donkey solidly on character with his Eddie Murphy impression. Merritt David Janes amuses as Lord Farquaad, even as the short gag grows stale quickly.
Shrek The Musical is a perfect "gateway drug" to the Broadway musical genre and the show has an important place in the introduction of quality live performance to a new generation. Your kids certainly won't care that they aren't seeing Sutton Foster and Brian d'Arcy James perform in the lead roles. You may, but probably not too much.
Shrek The Musical plays at the Providence Performing Arts Center through January 8, 2012. Ticket prices range from $40 - $67 and can be purchased at the PPAC Box Office which is located at 220 Weybosset St., Providence, RI; by calling (401) 421-2787 or at www.ppacri.org.
Photo: Lukas Poost as Shrek. Photo by Joan Marcus
Correction appended: A previous version of the article incorrectly identified the actor playing the role of Donkey. The performer is, as corrected, Andre' Jordan.