REVIEW: I’m a Believer! Oakbrook Prep’s ‘Shrek’ is a Musical Sensation

Bethany Hodge, Sam Kopf and Lawson Page star in SHREK.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Oakbrook Preparatory School in Spartanburg has done it again. The youths traipsed across the rooftops of London in “Mary Poppins,” the sea floor in “The Little Mermaid” and now through the swamps of Duloc in their big-budget spring musical extravaganza, “Shrek The Musical.”

With music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, “Shrek” is, of course, based on the DreamWorks animated film with Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy.

Lawson Page plays the unlikely hero, the ogre Shrek who, upon learning a band of fairytale creatures have invaded his swamp after being exiled from the Kingdom of Duloc by the evil, height-challenged Lord Farquaad (a stupendous William Stephenson who spends most of his scenes on his knees), agrees to deliver Farquaad a princess to marry in exchange for getting his land back.

The Princess in question, Fiona (the marvelous Bethany Hodge), has been locked away in a tower for 20 years and harbors a secret herself — a witch’s curse turns her into an ogre every night.

And along the way, Shrek, who is feared by everyone in the land, is befriended by a fast-talking Donkey, played by the FANTASTIC Sam Kopf (patrons will recall him as the scatterbrained seagull Scuttle in last year’s “The Little Mermaid”).  This sophomore embraces this part with utter excitement, spontaneity and saucy attitude from his Jim Carrey-like agility to the hilarious delivery of lyrics in “Don’t Let Me Go” (I’ll bail you out, when you get arrested…and I’ll shave your back when it gets hairy!).

Lawson is a formidable leading man who shows heart and humor, while Miss Hodge breezes through her Fiona (and several dance routines) with grace (“This Is How a Dream Comes True”) and a maturity and comfort level of a performer beyond her years. Their battle of wits is innocently charming in “I Think I Got You Beat” and they do exhibit a genuine fondness for one another, which tends to make the fairy tale ending more plausible.

This show is brimming with talent from the many dozens of storybook characters (everyone from Mother Goose to the Three Blind Mice”) in “Story of My Life” to an awesome coterie of dancing ladies in “What’s Up Duloc,” most who come back as the Rat Tappers for a tap-dance number. And choreographer Jenny Howard has forged challenging and highly-entertaining steps for these youth at every turn, even a Monty Python-esque routine for the palace guards.

There are plenty of other standouts too like Jacob Seay as a lanky Pinocchio and Leigh Marie McCarver as the Wicked Witch, but the single finest vocal performance may be from Isabel Arvanites (Ariel in “The little Mermaid”) as the Dragon in a butt-kickin’ rocky pop tune “Forever.”

“Shrek,” is beautifully stage and music directed by Dawn Rollins, and the troupe’s months of preparation pays off gloriously with clever comedic touches (such as a line from Lukas Graham’s “7 Years”) get laughs throughout and most of all peppy numbers such as “Big Bright Beautiful World” and “Story of My Life”  backed by the live student/proofessional orchestra lead by Katie Smith.

This is the full-length version of “Shrek The Musical” so there are a few naughty lines, but the younger ones will be none the wiser and enamored by the show’s super slick production values, the sensational musical numbers and infectious wit and comedic timing of the players.

And it takes an entire kindgom to pull off such a technically-demanding musical. Set designer Genell Halla has created a enchanting, magical fairytale world with a complex mixture of set pieces and a series of forest backdrops all operated by a flawless student stage crew  in nearly every scene, and flying in as many as four components at at time. This crew is Stage Managed by 2014 Oakbrook graduate Melanie Arvanites.

And the nearly 100 whimsical and colorful costumes by Beth Ann Hartford cement the show’s extraordinary artistry as do the many Hair and Make-up designs by Cathy Zion and terrific lighting by USC-Upstate’s Rich Robinson.

And everyone will love the message in this story that, as Ms. Rollins points out in her director’s notes, celebrates “the differences that make each of us unique and special.” Become a believer too and go see thus show!

“Shrek The Musical” continues Saturday, March 11 at 3 & 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Converse College’s Twichell Auditorium, 580 East Main St. in Spartanburg, For tickets, call the Box Office at (864) 596-9724 or visit www.converse.edu/boxoffice.

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