LEHI — As 7-year-old Fiona and Shrek show in the beginning of Shrek The Musical, it can be frightening to start off on your own. Fortunately for Shrek’s protagonists and the brand-new Regalo Theater Company, the start of an adventure can be truly bright and full of possibilities. The play, which was performed on the stage of Skyridge High School in Lehi, was a night of irreverent laughter, beautiful scenery, and powerful singing from leads and ensembles alike. My son was so thrilled about meeting the performers who captivated him long after his bedtime that he nearly peed his pants on the way home because he forgot to use the bathroom in the theater. If you don’t like that anecdote, you can stop reading now, because this is not the show for you.
Shrek the Musical is an adaptation of the 2001 Dreamworks film about a cantankerous ogre, the titular Shrek, who finds himself roped into rescuing a princess, the fiery redhead Fiona, from a dragon guarded tower with an irritating jackass for a companion. Shrek (played by Benjamin Oldroyd) aims to regain solitude in a swamp that has been overrun with reject fairy tale creatures, while Fiona (played by Sydney Henderson) simply hopes for a brave knight to rescue her and sweep her off her feet. Upon meeting, Shrek and Fiona’s initial revulsion to one another leads to a dialogue of competitive banter and crude jokes, as Shrek escorts Fiona to her supposed one true love, the diminutive and overcompensating Lord Farquad (played by Steve Poulson). The story builds to answering the question if such an likely duo can find true love, and is a hilarious, catchy and memorable musical comedy.
As I watched the performance, I was immediately impressed with the vocal strength of Oldroyd through his Scottish brogue and resonant high baritone. While Shrek is normally the hulking brute, Oldroyd played alongside Tavyin Bayless (in the role of Donkey), who was notably taller and broader. This created a dynamic that required Oldroyd to use force of personality to dominate scenes with Donkey. He excelled in this, particularly in the moment when Donkey does not wish to be left alone in the dragon-guarded castle. Oldroyd balanced well the brusque exterior of Shrek’s demands for isolation against the inner softness of Shrek’s longing for love and acceptance. There was also palpable chemistry between Oldroyd and Henderson, the latter of whom was especially engaging to watch on stage.
Henderson’s booming voice hit every note in Jeanine Tesori‘s score with crystal clear crispness. Fiona can be a paradoxical character, owing to her prim and polished princess airs that moments later devolve into farting contests with a brutish ogre (a contest she wins). Henderson uses her face to invite the audience into her thoughts as though each event is happening in real time and they are all in on the secret. She brought high energy and engagement to each moment of the show and was a believable and impressive Fiona all the way through.
These delightful leads were enjoyable to watch in a show where the practical production elements were all on point. Costume designer Amy Handy’s collaboration with Magic Carpet Rentals and Payson Community Theater provided for an immersive and eye-catching wardrobe for a large cast. Similarly, the sets from Michael Carrasco and his crew were both practical and authentic to the story. The projections, castles, and massive puppet dragon remained true to the visual aesthetic audiences familiar with Shrek will expect and are built with excellent craft. The backstage work of moving sets on and off nearly seamless, as though seeing a stage hand would reinstate my disbelief as an audience member.
Shrek features a massive ensemble in David Lindsay-Abaire‘s script, and that seems to have been expanded to fill the large stage with strong voices. From the ensemble, I was particularly impressed by both the vocal range and puppeteering of Kassidy Brown, who made Gingy one of the most engaging characters in the entire room. I was more amused and engaged by Brown’s portrayal of the little crippled cookie than by any other character. Kudos similarly are offered to Jennifer Long (as the Bishop) and Justin Hendricks (as Pinocciho), who brought hilarious and vivid voice work to characters that could otherwise slip into the background.
Perhaps the only elements of the show that were unimpressive were the directing (by Michael and Colleen Carrasco) and choreography (by Jessica Adams). So much of the production had actors walking onto the stage, standing, speaking or singing, and then moving to another place to sing or speak some more. While the vocal and emotional journeys of much of the cast were impressive, the lack of spontaneity or purpose in their blocking was not. The ensemble was solid for such a large cast that included children as young as four, but the choreography for ensembles and leads alike was unimaginative and pedestrian. That’s not to say it was poorly executed; the energy in the cast crescendoed through the performance until “Freak Flag” nearly blew the doors off the theater. However, there was about as much walking to center and acting dead center as in a Wes Anderson film, and the choices for the overall movement were fairly boring.
That said, I truly would never have guessed that this was an inaugural production for the Regalo Theater. The massive effort to coordinate a production with a cast this size and so many technical demands is impressive and noteworthy. It is always a joy to see a show where you and your child can fart and laugh along with the cast. If this production is any indication, Regalo Theater has a big, bright, beautiful future.