Theatre Reviews
6:20 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

Peoria Players finds a home for "Shrek: The Musical"

Credit Peoria Players Theatre

Peoria Players Theatre is staging the first Central Illinois production of “Shrek: The Musical,” based on the animated films Marty Lynch has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria.

Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.

Once in a while Broadway comes up with a show that’s just not like the others.  Shrek: The Musical is one of those shows that just do not belong on the Broadway.  Peoria feels like a better home for that lovable green ogre, and Peoria Players has brought Shrek home where he belongs.

For the first time ever, I brought my four-year-old son to see a musical, and I was not sure how it was going to go.  Apparently I was not the first person to introduce theatre to their children that night.  The sound of their laughter is worth the price of admission.

As it turns out, the show is exactly what it calls itself.  If you know the film, then you know the musical.  The biggest difference is in the fact that Shrek the film draws heavily on popular music, but the musical relies on the music of Jeanine Tesori.  Tesori is a heavy hitter in the theatre world, but she works against the fact that we all know the music, and nobody knew her songs before the show started.

That isn’t to say that the music isn’t up to the task.  “Big, Bright Beautiful World” is a great opening number.  I loved “When Words Fail” as a sweet song, and anything with Lord Farquaad, who is now a much more fleshed out character, is musical gold.  There is the drawback that every single scene was given its own number and that was not always necessary.  At the end of the show you hear the anthem of the show, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.”  It hearkens back to songs such as “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray!  I hesitate to say that Tesori’s effort fell flat, but it was swinging for the fences and didn’t quite make it out of the park.

What saves the show when the script falters are the performances given by a cast put together by Travis Olson and Mary Keltner.  George Maxedon plays Shrek with the flexibility of an actor who embraces the audience’s familiarity with the role and the gift of imbuing him with a fresh take.  It’s a little surprising how well Maxedon and Bryan Blanks play together as Shrek and the Donkey.  Blanks jumps into his role as Donkey, and is rewarded with some of the best solo performances as a result.  Mariah Thornton rounds out the trio with her vivacious performance as Princess Fiona.  One breakout performance is from Peoria neophyte Dustin Strickland, as Lord Farquaad.

The show is made immeasurably better by the work of musical director Susan Somerville Brown and the live orchestra.  Choreographer Daniel Fisher brings the various and enormous groups of fairytale creatures, tap dancing rats, and the people of Duloc onstage for dazzling group numbers.  As with any opening night, there were moments when nerves got the best of people, and the fog machine refused to play nicely in act 1.  A show like Shrek is meant to be a spectacle though, and you take the minor flubs with all of the accomplishments of the production team.  The costumes are excellent, the props look terrific, and the sound effects were perfect. 

Ultimately, the reason I enjoyed this show is because it is such a good fit for Peoria Players.  The real judge in this review is my four-year-old, who loved it.  He talked about how much he loved it until he fell asleep in the car, letting me know that the night was a great idea as I was driving home.

Shrek: The Musical continues May 7-11. Tickets are available at 688-4473 or www.peoriaplayers.org.