HERRIMAN — “It’s a big bright beautiful world!” sings Shrek in the opening of the eponymous Shrek The Musical. And it’s hard to find a more appropriate set of words to describe the Herriman Arts Council’s production of the show. Surpassing my expectations for amateur theatre, the Herriman Arts Council has created a show that is a great outing for families in the area.
First, this musical is big. With a cast of nearly 60 performers, a 21-member orchestra, and a small army of stagehands, Shrek The Musical was a massive undertaking for Herriman Arts Council. Indeed, the large cast made the show a true community event. I’m pleased that many of the problems associated with large amateur casts were completely absent. Every microphone worked, (thanks to sound designer Kristin Housley), the ensemble didn’t mope around the stage, nor did the stage ever feel crowded.
Second, this musical is bright. I adored the way that the director, Kim Pederson, emphasized the humor of the show. Pederson helped her actors deliver their jokes well (especially the Donkey’s dialogue) and created several visual gags with Lord Farquaad that I never tired of. I also appreciate that Pederson helped this show move along nicely; the dialogue between songs was brisk (but never rushed), which kept me entertained throughout the entire evening.
Contributing to the “brightness” of the musical were superb performances from the leads. Layne B. Willden was charismatic from his very first entrance. Willden has a terrifically clear singing voice, and his renditions of “When Words Fail” and “Build a Wall” made the second act much stronger than I expected. He also made Shrek an emotional and sweet character, and I found it easy to believe that a princess would fall in love with such a tender guy, even if he was an ogre. As Princess Fiona, Bethany Hall had the attitude and personality that made her the perfect 21st century princess. Hall was having fun in every scene she was in, and that sense of fun seemed to infect the rest of the cast. This was most apparent in the large group numbers she was in, such as “Morning Person” and “This is How Dreams Come True.” Willden and Hall had great chemistry together, and the final kiss in the show felt more like a “true love’s kiss” than the typical musical theatre kiss.
I also appreciated Ryan Hoskins‘s performance as the Donkey. Instead of a pale imitation of Eddie Murphy’s voice performance, Hoskins created his own interpretation of the character, which was neurotic and lacking in self-awareness. Focusing on these traits in the donkey (instead of making him “cool”) made the character more sympathetic than what I’ve seen on stage in the past. Moreover, the Hoskins formed a great comedic duo with Willden, and the two had a wiff of a classic vaudeville routine; this friendly but sometimes antagonistic interaction between the two made the later scenes (such as the final scene in the swamp) emotionally rewarding.
Finally, Shrek The Musical was beautiful. Meli Black and Rachel Hatch’s costumes were gorgeous and, unlike many arts council productions, didn’t seem cheap. Most of the costumes were important pieces of the show that contributed to the setting of the story, especially the elaborate fairy tale creatures’ costumes and the silly costume for Lord Farquaad. Likewise, Debra Taylor‘s props were among the many details that made this show a visual spectacle. Taylor had props ranging from the functional and realistic (e.g., swords, storybooks, a big sunflower) to the humorous (like the gigantic spatula or an exploding bird, which both made for great visual gags).
Jolyn Chelak and Paul Keel’s set contributed to the beauty of this production, and I loved the artistry of the set. The field backdrop with its detailed sunflowers, the subtle starlight in the back set piece, the circular piece used for “The Traveling Song,” and more made the set a genuinely lovely work of art. The set also was very functional, which made scene changes efficient and quick, contributing to the flow of the show. The giant dragon created by Deb Taylor and Becki Holt was a nice piece of theatre magic, although having three actresses (Kayla Martin, April Kerr, and Katryna Williams) walk in front of the dragon and speaking and singing its lines was an odd choice that didn’t entirely work.
It’s also important to mention Julie Balazs‘s choreography. None of it was complex, but it was still satisfying because this cast executed the steps with almost as much precision as a drill team, such as in “What’s Up, Duloc?” and “Make a Move.” The cast was well rehearsed, and I never sensed any hesitation on stage about from the cast during the dances. Plus, Balazs kept each characters’ uniqueness in mind when she designed the dances. In “Story of My Life,” for example, the rabbit and Mother Goose moved like their animals in every dance step. These dashes of character in the group numbers made the ensemble feel like it consisted of individuals. Balazs’s “Freak Flag” choreography was energetic and contributed to the song being the flagship number of the show.
Those are some of the many reasons why Shrek The Musical in Herriman is big, bright, and beautiful. Yes, there are some aspects that I didn’t like: Farquaad’s wig looked like a Cher wig instead of a princely bob, and the blue “F” costumes for the knights looked too much like the Facebook logo. Plus, David Lindsay-Abaire‘s script putters slowly in the second act and Jeanine Tesori‘s songs sometimes lack originality. But this is a great production with a talented cast, excellent direction, and a live orchestra (a real treat). So, get the family ready for some fun dancing, some fart jokes, and plenty of heart and take them to this big, bright, beautiful Shrek The Musical.