Friday, November 19, 2010

Further Afield Theater Reviews -- "Shrek the Musical" at the Denver Center

"Shrek The Musical"
Until Nov. 28 at the Buell Theater
1101 13th St., Denver
Tickets start at $15
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Two and a half stars out of four

An admirable message underlies the pageantry and special effects in "Shrek: The Musical."
Dig deeper than the puppets, the costumes and the stream expensive scenery, and the main theme of the film remains intact. At its heart, the show is about self-confidence and self-acceptance. It's about embracing one's inner freak and eschewing judgements based on appearances.
The message is simple enough, but it tends to get lost in a dense score and high production values in the Broadway take on the original story.
The magic of the first "Shrek" film in 2001 was in its dynamism, its mixture of fairy tale fantasy and adult humor. The effect, unfortunately, seemed diluted in the later installments of the franchise.
While David Lindsay-Abaire kept word-for-word dialogue from the film in the script, the musical take on the story lacks the first film's sense of innovation.
The occasional sense of sluggishness doesn't stem from any lack of talent on the part of the performers. As the lead, Eric Petersen offers a perfect amount of gruffness and offensiveness, offering an ogre that is at once endearing and disgusting. Similarly, Alan Mingo Jr. brings a captivating energy to the role of Donkey and Haven Burton seems more confident in her performance as Princess Fiona than Cameron Diaz. As the short-statured villain Lord Farquuad, David Vaughn offers some of the funniest moments of the show, tramping around on his knees and wearing a pair of fake legs for the entire show.
The stellar cast finds a constant complement in an array of dazzling effects. From a massive, free-standing dragon puppet to Lord Farquuad's oversized steed, the show certainly doesn't lack for any special effects.
But the expense of the show can take away from the original charm of the story. What's more, Jeanine Tesori's dense score doesn't always hit the mark. Despite musical highlights like "I Think I Got You Beat," "When Words Fail" and "Freak Flag," the music can feel labored and clunky at times. The theme "Big Bright Beautiful World," for example, doesn't seem strong enough to stand as the show's unifying musical piece.
Still, the constant stream of eye candy onstage and the excellent performances from the orchestra pit doesn't fall short in sheer entertainment value. The expense of the production shows, and the musical has kept a good deal of the original story's charm and message.
For a show that's supposed to preach the unimportance of appearances, however, "Shrek: The Musical" seems to rely far too heavily on special effects and production values in lieu of content.

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