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Shrek Surprises with its Stellar Silliness, Sincerity, and Song

Shrek Surprises with its Stellar Silliness, Sincerity, and Song

Once upon a time,” as the story goes. But I must tell you, with all honesty, that I never really imagined spending the time to sit through this big splashy commercial Broadway musical, especially when it debuted live on Broadway. It opened years before I started writing reviews, and the idea of paying Broadway ticket prices for a musical such as this was unthinkable. I guess you can call me some kind of a musical theatre snob, as The Band’s Visit and Hadestown are my eternal go tos, but ya know, I think I was wrong about this show. I reluctantly hate to admit it, and in the immortal words of the titular green character, “being liked is overrated“. This is ‘The Story of My Life‘ though. So streaming Shrek The Musical for free on YouTube (see link below or click here) over one year into a deadly pandemic, I have to say that I had a pretty darn good time diving into that Road Trip ‘Travel Song‘ adventure. Who coulda known it?

Now, is this a product of a theatrical starvation due to lockdown? I’m not so sure, and I’m also not so sure I would have enjoyed shelling out over a hundred dollars for a Broadway seat, nor would I have enjoyed the side eyed stare (glare?) I would have received from my theatre buddies if I had proposed the idea back in 2008 when it first opened at the Broadway Theater. Who’s to say? But I needed a sign, I guess, because, once again, as the great green ogre says most wisely, “people hate the things they can’t understand“, and understanding how a great funny animated film about an ugly ogre and a transforming princess could become, like so many other shows fail to do, a great and fun stage musical, well, at the time, that was a hard strange overly large ugly green pill to swallow (but now I sorta wish I had tried).

Crossing that bridge over fiery lava together, Shrek The Musical found its way, maybe not entirely, but the chemistry of its crew, and the tall tale storybook journey is “yeah yeah” fantastic. Growing wildly out of the 2001 DreamWorks mega-hit film, the show finds the pathway to something that is surprisingly fun and generous of spirit. It growls out a dynamic theatricality that is most entertaining at every turn of the revolve. Filled to the rim with honest funny characterizations and moments, the film-to-stage adaptation never fail to amaze and joyfully enlighten. They all, from top to bottom with bravado, let their Freak Flag fly with a fierce confidence that is infectious all because of the show’s ultra-fine talented cast and crew made up of true spirited professionals of the game. The marquee names give it a solid stamp of comic and vocal approval that never fades or fails to entertain. Brian d’Arcy James (Broadway’s Something Rotten!) is as magnificent of a Shrek as one could ever hope for, finding charm and force within his large green frame,. He manages to find his way home through balancing the grunting brute and the teddy bear blush magnificently. But it really is the stupendous Sutton Foster (TNG’s Sweet Charity) as the cursed Princess Fiona who floats out the funny with every turn around the tower. Her mousy dance number is every bit of parody perfection, like much of the show, finding effervescent joy and connection in the absurd and stupid. She, with d’Arcy James, give Shrek The Musical the perfect energetic ‘Morning Song‘ glory engagement, filled with clever connection and some peppy playfulness that, blended together, never fail to conquer our hearts and our fears with every belch and fart. ‘This is How a Dream Comes True.

The rest of the cast, including Christopher Sieber (Broadway’s The Prom) as Farquaad and John Tartaglia (Broadway’s Avenue Q) as Pinocchio are hands down, knees to the ground, fantastic and funny, and my nose won’t grow for saying that out loud. Daniel Breaker (Broadway/Chicago’s Hamilton), who came into the part after its trial run in Seattle, is high spirited perfection in the magnificently talky role of Donkey. He never fails to find the exact emotional stance and back legs to stand on, even when being a ridiculously needy ass. His ‘Make a Move‘ alongside those delectable Three Blind Mice is ‘Donkey Pot Pie‘ delicious, finding all the funny that can be had inside an emotional lesson that sings true and is hoofed strongly. Twisting the heart strings around each and every one with impeccable ease, the band of storybook outcasts and fairy tale oddities find camaraderie and attachment in a surprisingly authentic way, even while making faces, bickering, and farting at one another. It’s truly something surprisingly entertaining to witness. No need to ‘Build a Wall‘ to keep this high level of frivolity out. 

The Storybook cast in Broadway’s Shrek The Musical.

When Words Fail‘ to fail, the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire has all the right gears for this multifaceted storybook tale to soar, expanding on the main characters’ backstories to pack a more emotionally festive punch. The demons of abandonment and the terrors of engagement, both real and fairytale imaginary, are layered on one and (almost) all, making the heartfelt message of where true beauty and love really lie obvious and clear. It works wonders, and delivers the motto loud and strong. The upbeat feisty score by Jeanine Tesori supplies the crew with some pretty amazingly fun songs to sing and hoof to, moving the piece along with a Yellow Brick Road speed. ‘I Think I Got You Beat‘, like so many of the numbers throughout the show, gifts the characters with echos of classic musicals and themes that make us all smile and nod. They aren’t classic superstar songs, but they sure do sell the green stuff with aplomb.

The Broadway show, back in 2009, received twelve Drama Desk Award and eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and acting awards for d’Arcy James, Foster and Sieber. No surprise there now that I got to stream their performances 12 years after the fact, and thanks to the festive staging by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, and the strong designs of Tim Hatley, I found myself laughing completely out loud, in ways that I never would have imagined. I guess that ‘I’m a Believer‘ now in Shrek The Musical, especially as that classic Neil Diamond tune plays us out through the proverbial virtual doors. It truly rocks and shakes the foundations of all that I think I know about Broadway shows right off that high tower and into that wonderful fairy tale swamp. Click on the link below, even if you..(sing it, Brian-) “thought love was only true in fairy tales“…. Cause you’re wrong. Dead green wrong.

For more from Ross click here


My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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