PAYSON — Shrek the Musical opened on Broadway December 14, 2008, based on the 2001 movie by Dreamworks Animation. It is a well known, extremely popular franchise, with many sequels and spin-offs. The idea for a musical version was explored as early as 2002, and the project first came to life in Seattle in August of 2008. The book and lyrics were written by David Lindsay-Abaire (a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright) and music by Jeanine Tesori, who composed music for Caroline, or Change, as well as many other shows.
Shrek is not a normal fairy tale. The hero of the story starts out not on a quest to bring adoration, fame, or wealth, but in fact to continue his desperate attempt to be left alone. When a group of outcast fairy tale characters invade his solitude, the great green orge is forced to search for the princess Fiona in order to get these misfits away from him and leave him alone once more. Aided by other unlikely friends and characters, the audience is treated to a story of love, acceptance, and growth, all packaged up in a box of humor and satire.With a story this familiar, it is important that the cast be able to help the audience capture the spirit of the show and connect with the characters, while being true to the elements that made the movie and the broadway production popular in the first place. Payson Community Theater was up to the challenge. The first thing I was impressed with was the costuming. During the second number, a number of fairy tale creatures are on stage, and each and every costume was intricate in detail. There is a crew of costume designers and seamstresses, all supervised by Colleen Carrasco. The entire costuming team did an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. Shrek himself was very realistic, and I was very impressed with the transformation of Fiona.
Michael Carrasco, the director, made a number of excellent choices. I was very pleased with the fact that he chose to have the beginning announcement in character, which set the tone for the entire show. I also enjoyed the casting choices, and felt that a great deal of attention was paid to guiding the actors in playing off of each other, especially in regards to the three main characters, Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona. One of the most interesting elements of this show was the fact that Shrek and Donkey were played by brothers Steve and Nate Dunford, respectively. Because of this, the chemistry between the two characters was some of the best I have ever seen. During the song “Don’t Let Me Go,” Nate Dunford excelled at helping the audience begin to root for him as Shrek’s sidekick, and the reactions by Steve Dunford were appropriate and interesting. Both brothers have excellent voices, and I looked forward to hearing each and every song.
Fiona, played by Chelsea Kennedy, was also a strong character. However, the sound system seemed to have issues with her microphone more than anyone else’s, which left me straining at times to hear Kennedy. Hopefully this was just an opening night technicality. But when her microphone worked correctly, Kennedy was phenomenal. One of my favorite moments of the show was the song “I Know Its Today”. In the number, the audience is treated to three stages of Fiona’s life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Young Fiona (played by Olivia Sandor), Teenage Fiona (played by Amber Southwick), and Kennedy all sing a duet about when their fairy tale will begin. The harmonies of these three women were strong, and the costuming and staging excellent. Another actor worthy of mentioning is Steve Poulson, who played Lord Farquaad. Poulson had a keen sense of comedic timing, and played the narcissistic tiny prince with an amazing amount of poise and humor. I also loved the costuming and choreography associated with every number that featured Poulson.
Justin Bills, the musical director, put together an excellent chorus, and the musical numbers were flawless, except for the sound system and microphone issues. One of the best songs in the show is a song by the chorus members, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” During this song, many of the characters got to have their moment in the spotlight, and all of the performers did this excellently. Chantelle Peck, the choreographer, also should be commended for her ability to bring the characters to life. Most especially, the numbers between Fiona and Shrek, Donkey and Shrek, and Farquaad had unique and challenging choreography that Peck was able to design well and her actors were able to execute flawlessly.
Finally, and most important, Shrek was fun. It is a show that you can take Grandma, Mom, kids, friends, neighbors, and even those musical haters that UTBA readers don’t understand. It is the kind of show community theaters should be doing, something that will bring entertainment to the community while having a great time showcasing talent. I live a full hour and thirty minutes away from Payson, and I say it was well worth the drive.