IVINS — The Tuacahn Amphitheater, located just outside of St. George, Utah, has been providing theatrical entertainment for over 20 years. In that time it has become a popular tourist destination for people wanting to spend a few days in the warmth of the St. George area, and take in a show or two. That was exactly what my experience was this weekend, as I traveling to the area to see the opening night of two of the productions on the schedule this year.
The first show opening is Shrek the Musical, based on the 2001 animated movie of the same name. Jeanine Tesori composed the play’s music, and David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the lyrics and script. The show’s Broadway production (the most expensive in Broadway history at the time) opened in 2008, and has since had many productions performed throughout the world. The play tells the story of the reclusive ogre, a princess in a tower, a humorous donkey, a controlling prince, and a group of displaced fairy tale characters all trying to find love, happiness, and acceptance in their world.
Tuacahn’s production of Shrek was directed by Scott S. Anderson, a regular Tuacahn director who has done an excellent job of utilizing the ambiance of the location in order to effectively build a fairy tale world. Scenic designer Doug Ellis and lighting designer Joseph Eddy made the production shine with fun elements, such as a moon projected onto the red rocks, variation in use of space, and fun unexpected elements with water and fireworks.
The live orchestra and music direction by Bryson Baumartel was exceptional, which made the chorus numbers such as “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag” really shine. Adding to that was the excellent choreography throughout the show by Mara Newbery Greer. A particularly excellent choregraphed moment was the opening to act two, “Morning Person,” where the chorus dancers tap dancing with special costuming by Janet Swenson and the excellent lighting made it a memorable part of the production.
The role of the Donkey, played by Andre Jordan, was one of the stand out performances of the evening, catching many laughs and lots of applause. From his first number “Don’t Let Me Go,” to the “Travel Song” and “Make a Move,” it was a pleasure to see him each time he came on stage. Coupled with a fun side storyline regarding a love-struck dragon, played masterfully well by Jennifer Leigh Warren, Donkey was one of the strongest elements of the evening. Additionally, the role of Farquaad, played by Jeffrey Scott Stevens, was very humorous. The song “What’s Up Duloc?” was a personal favorite, and his reactions during the final scene were the perfect addition to the comedic elements of the show.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the show itself was the role of Shrek, played by Steve Judkins. While Judkins performance was decent, he was not as impressive as many of his costars. Indeed, several of the other characters outshone him by comparison. For instance, in the final number of act one, “Who I’d Be,” when Fiona (played by Whitney Winfield) joins in the song, she steps in with a stronger performance. Winfield’s performance was lovely, but overshadowed Judkins. Winfield does an excellent job as Fiona, and her tap dancing in “Morning Person” was very impressive.
The customer service and welcoming atmosphere at the theatre should be mentioned. It is clear that the production crew understands the importance of audience comfort and enjoyment, and they go out of their way to ensure this is the case. Additionally, this is a very family friendly venue, offering inexpensive childcare for children under the age of seven, and the show is very appropriate for children over that age.
Overall, I was very impressed with this production of Shrek the Musical. The technical elements, direction, and choreography, really lifted up the entire level of the production. The St. George area of Utah is a beautiful place to spend a weekend, and taking in a show under the stars in the middle of the red rock mountains is something that should be on every Utah theatre fan’s bucket list.