BY SANDY STAGGS
With enchanting storybook sets, eye-popping and dazzling costumes, a sumptuous live orchestra, dancing mice and palace guards, a young cast bubbling over with talent, a tad of Ogre flatulence, and a universal poignant message about judging a book by its cover, Dorman High School‘s award-winning theatre has a fairytale ending this year with its blockbuster spring finale “Shrek the Musical.”
Based on the DreamWorks film starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow, this musicalized version follows the same essential premise: a lonely ogre Shrek (played eloquently here by TyRece Wilkins) and his new gregarious but clingy pal Donkey (Perrion Porter) are on a mission to rescue Princess Fiona (Kit Lindsey) from a tower and deliver her to the height-challenged, evil Lord Farquaad (Kyle McIntyre) as his bride. But Fiona has a curse that can only be broken by a kiss from her one true love…which obviously ain’t the pint-sized tyrant.
Appropriate for all ages, “Shrek” is a well-balanced show with a book by David Lindsay-Abaire and replacing the film’s pop covers and montages is a cache of original jaunty songs by Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori that pointedly further the story and genuinely capture the indelible characters. But don’t worry the high-octane and very danceable finale, Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer,” remains solidly intact and is sure to raise an enthusiastic audience for a singalong.
As the much-feared towering ogre Shrek, Wilkins’ prominent stature serves him well as he conveys this misunderstood soul with a heart of gold. It’s a huge, demanding part and he has no trouble selling us with his acting or music prowess, particularly in a string of solos in the second act, especially soaring in the ballad “When Words Fail” as he pines for Fiona.
Miss Lindsey, trained at the Greer and South Carolina Children’s Theatres, is a formidable frontwoman as Fiona and only a sophomore. She projects supreme confidence as a playful Princess with a twisted sense of humor in the frolic of “Morning Person” while leading a pack of tapping rats, in a brilliantly-staged introduction with the curtain only raised about a twelve inches revealing only their feet at first. And Miss Lindsey has the vocal chops to back it up. However, I am partial to her charming woes of misery competition with Shrek in “I Think I Got You Beat.”
Porter (also a sophomore) is blessed with more than half of the show’s one-line zingers. Dressed in a full-body donkey suit and capped off with extravagant facial make-up, he doesn’t squander a moment on stage as he navigates a barrage of emotions from fear to courage and transforms from a strange beast to Shrek’s trusty confidant. Porter is quite animated at every junction and is probably the most entertaining performer in the show. And I believe it was while singing the incredulous lyrics of “Don’t Let Me Go” when he actually twerked his donkey tail.
The fantastic Kyle McIntyre embodies with Lord Farquaad with skill and precision in a committed, nuanced and hilarious performance with ample amounts of misguided malevolence and plain ole butt-of the-joke self-deprecation. And I do hope he is wearing kneepads for this physically-taxing costume with short stubby fake legs attached to his body. “Shrek” is his final production at Dorman as he is heading off to USC Upstate in the fall to join the Shoestring Players on a well-earned theatre scholarship.
“Shrek” is also chock full of satire and smashing musical numbers like “What’s Up Duloc,” “Big Bright Beautiful World” and “Morning Person,” all choreographed by Freshman Campus Drama teacher Blair Dawkins. I spotted some Tina Turner moves from “Proud Mary” and a sea of Bob Fosse jazz hands. And these kids were polished, in sync, and nailed those routines, even the hard-shoe number that was mostly comprised of newbies.
But the greatest spectacles in “Shrek,” especially for the younger fans, are likely the sequences (“Story of My Life” and the gospel-infused “Freak Flag”) with the exiled lineup of fairy tale characters that play like a Walt Disney Mardi Gras parade, with extraordinary and intricately detailed costumes and props of every color in the rainbow and for every single actor.
There are many, many standouts on the Dorman stage and several did make a lasting impression: a jovial Jack Bingham as Pinocchio, Alex Davis as the Big Bad Wolf in drag, and the Teen Fiona (Sarah Wren) and Young Fiona (Cassandra Rollins), just to credit a few.
Oh and special kudos to Zoe Genovese in her musical theatre debut as the Dragon in a Patti Labelle-esque soul-stirring rendition of “Forever,” as well as Kalista Pedersen, who sparkled immensely as the convincing caricature voice of the hostage gingerbread cookie Gingy (“Freak Flag”) and as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The show’s sprawling pastoral motif by Pam Broome is anchored by festive vine panels for a proscenium that backlights beautifully, especially in green hues. She has designed dozens and dozens of impressive set pieces all complimented by looming forest backdrops.
Music Director Alvetta Draper is responsible for the enthusiastic and top-notch vocals and even incorporates a tight-knit squad of pit singers (rather balcony singers) for extra flair. Dave Bruce conducts the mostly student ensemble of musicians with an extra sweet string section and wistful woodwinds. Susan Baier is orchestra director.
The other artists on the Dorman team include Emily Thomas as make-up designer; Rusty Milner as Sound Designer; Troy McDowell as Technical director and, along with Leeann Wyatt, Lighting Designer. Sydnie Rogers is Stage Manager, assisted by Mattison Lawson and Rebecca Wolfe.
Director Leah Ruth Wren has mounted an ambitious production with all the bells and whistles Dorman audiences expect from a massive musical like “Shrek.” It’s a briskly-paced and well-heeled monster with a stoked and prepared cast that spans the pit catwalk and the aisles and an energetic stage crew responsible for all the moving parts on every plane on the stage.
The Dorman gang pulls this show off with pleasant aplomb and embraces it with such spirit that audiences are guaranteed to leave this theatre with that warm and fuzzy, feel-good adrenaline of a joyful happily-ever-after ending.
“Shrek” continues Friday and Saturday, April 21-22 at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Shows are at Dorman High School College Fine Arts Center, 1050 Cavalier Way in Roebuck. Tickets available at http://www.districtsixarts.com/.