"Shrek the Musical" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater): Pleasure Guaranteed

"Shrek the Musical" (Chicago Shakespeare Theater): Pleasure Guaranteed

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents SHREK THE MUSICAL.

The Dreamworks beloved animated classic is waving its “Freak Flag” on Navy Pier this summer.  The atypical ogre-gets-the-girl love story makes the perfect kid theatrical outing. Chicago Shakes has abbreviated and fine-tuned the familiar tale.  The big heaps of heart and comedy are concentrated into a tight family-friendly package.

Under the masterful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the talented ensemble energetically stage a coup.  As fairytale characters, they demand their individuality and ability to define their own happy ending.  Although in the first few scenes the band overpowers individual’s lyrics, the collective singing and dancing is a harmonized spectacle. Costume Designer Theresa Ham adds a visual pop with unique personalization.  The bear family features distinguishing clothes and hats with Cameron Conti (baby bear) looking particularly snuggle-able.  Ham’s detail in defining the eclectic misfits brings the pomp and circumstance to the swamp.

In one scene, Ham gives the three different Fiona’s slight age variations on their costume.  Emily Leahy (7 year old Fiona) has a dreamy, sweet, princess look.  Her teen self, played by Rebecca Pink, is off-the-shoulder rebellious.  Summer Naomi Smart (Fiona) has a grown-up, assured radiance.  The trio sing solo and together in one of my favorite numbers, “I know it’s today.”  They all give their own take on the situation:  idealistic (Leahy), suspicious (Pink) and frustrated (Smart).  Then, they all come together with wistful, hopefulness.  It’s one of multiple ‘aahhh‘ moments in this show.

As the spunky Smart and and acerbic Michael Aaron Lindner (Shrek) fall for each other in the funky “I think I got you beat,” we fall in love with them.  Their courtship is a playful gas with some bustin’ moves.  Their contrasting personas engage us in their love story.   The beautiful Smart goes crass.  The scary Lindner goes lovable.  It’s a match with all the rom-com stylings.  The comedy runs broad and deep in this show.  Travis Taylor (Farquaad) is hilarious as the arrogant and stature-challenged Lord.  His presence is particularly amusing in the well-orchestrated “What’s Up Duloc” sequence.  The shiny ensemble kicks it up and taps it out as Taylor makeshifts his own stilted dance.

And what’s Shrek without Donkey?  The scene-stealing James Earl Jones II (Donkey) sounds every bit like the iconic Eddie Murphy who originated the role.  Yet, there is something more rich about Jones’ performance.  Jones does this thing with his hoof that prolongs the contemplation and ultimately heightens the humor. Instead of being  this surface chatterbox, Jones plays his part with a more deliberate intention.  Jones’ Donkey is  much more of a driving force than a sidekick.  His feisty flirtations with the  equally commanding Alexis J. Rogers (Dragon) could easily earn the couple a spin-off musical.

The story is familiar. The characters are well-worn friends.  The pleasurable experience is a guarantee.  It’s like reading a fairytale for the umpteenth time.  SHREK THE MUSICAL gives us what we crave... a happy ending!   This production of SHREK THE MUSICAL makes me want Chicago Shakes to produce their versions of “Shrek 2,” “Shrek the Third,” and “Shrek Forever After.”  Chicago needs move happily-ever-afters.

Running Time:  Seventy-five minutes with no intermission

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Avenue

Based on the Dreamworks Animation Motion PIcture and book by William Steig

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Music direction by Michael Mahler

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell

Wednesdays at 11am

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays at 11am and 2pm

Thru September 1st

Buy Tickets at www.chicagoshakes.com

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