‘Shrek the Musical’ at The Milburn Stone Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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THREE AND A HALF STARS
The freak flag is flying up at The Milburn Stone Theatre as they present Shrek the Musical  to kick off their fall season! Directed and Designed by S. Lee Lewis, the popular fairytale characters, based on the DreamWorks Animation motion picture and the book by William Steig, are full of lively song and make a fun journey for the whole family.

Matt Cannon (Thelonius), Rebekah Latshaw (Gingy), Steve Flickingers (the Captain), and Jamie Mikijanic (Lord Farquaad). Photo by Scott Serio and Cecil Scene.
Matt Cannon (Thelonius), Rebekah Latshaw (Gingy), Steve Flickingers (the Captain), and Jamie Mikijanic (Lord Farquaad). Photo by Scott Serio and Cecil Scene.

Whimsical magic is at its finest with Lewis’ sensational scenic design. Spilling out into the audience for the ‘all-inclusive’ effect, the house is decorated to be a part of the enchanted forest. Sparkly jungle foliage is draped from the balcony overhangs and there are surprises galore that drop from the catwalk throughout the production! Lewis’ attention to detail in the scenery painting is beautiful and precise; vibrant greens and rich browns furthering the wooded swampland look. Lewis leaves no stone unturned when it comes to this scenic masterpiece.

Lewis’ directional choices leave the audience on a bit of a roller coaster. For as brilliant as some of his blocking is – the Act I Finale is as ill-executed as some of his more thematic elements. Choosing to have the dragon actor in the balcony in a faerie costume with a spotlight focused on her while she sings “Forever” completely detracts from the enormous gorgeous puppet that is flying around onstage chasing Donkey. Lewis also makes use of the house having the characters running on and off the stage into the house and coming down through it, but every time they do there is a full house-lights cue that is harsh and distracting.

The Duloc Dancers, while looking conformist in their costumes, don’t actually sing “What’s Up, Dulock?” and the ensemble that is singing it is hard to hear, losing a lot of the brilliant humor that is written into that song. Lewis does, however, make a really clever choice when it comes to setting up Farquaad’s solo “The Ballad of Lord Farquaad,” having the miniscule king in the bathtub with bubbles raining down over the audience. All in all, the show is enjoyable, and really entertaining when it comes to what’s happening technically.

Choreographer Bambi Johnson is up and down as well in the execution of her dance routines. The Duloc Dancers are not synchronized, and as the lyric says they’d be getting the rack for their mistakes. But Johnson’s skills show through in the intense tap-routine featured during “Morning Person.” Her intricate movements again shine during “Freak Flag,” and everyone has a good time during the big finale dance party featured during “I’m A Believer.”

Costumiere Gay Lynn Price gets all the enchantments this storybook tale has to offer in full visual array. The fairytale creatures that have been relegated to Shrek’s swamp look magnificent, as if they were plucked up from the pages of their own storybooks. Price’s one misstep is that Farquaad’s capes are too short. They do not at times properly cover his feet and completely shatter the tricky illusion of the half-pint character.

The ensemble, musically directed by Niki Tart, is strong and powerful but at times has trouble staying with the musical recording. For the most part – they do manage to slow down or match up and catch the pace, but during the opening number and “Story of My Life” the moments are extremely noticeable. Despite the pacing issues, the ensemble is enthusiastic and it is visibly clear that they wish to entertain the audience.

Featured performers like Pinocchio (Gannon Webb), Mama Ogre/Bear (Barbara Walker), and Gingy (Rebekah Latshaw), really become the glue of the ensemble. Webb rocks the character voice of the squeaky wooden puppet-boy and really owns “Story of My Life,” making it his personal tragedy for all to hear. Walker, featured in the same number, and later in “Freak Flag,” has a distinctive voice that can clearly be heard whenever she sings. And Latshaw takes the ensemble’s cake when it comes to standout performances. Providing that shrill voice expected of the character, she’s ‘all attitude,’ especially when it comes to dealing with Farquaad, and her belted intro to “Freak Flag” is sensational.

Shrek (Dickie Mahoney) is a bit on the deadpan side of things in this production. While Mahoney may not have a handle on the Scottish accent, as it wavers drastically throughout the performance, but he makes up for it with rich emotional depth and serene vocals. Despite losing his lines halfway through “Who I’d Be,” he gave a soulful rendition of the song belting every feeling the ogre has ever had into it. And when he performed “Build A Wall” it was nothing short of a powerful blast of scorn and rejection that really tugged at my heartstrings. His natural gruff nature lent an ease to the character.

Fiona (Shereen Ahmed) is a perky peppy princess who wouldn’t be put out. Ahmed literally has the songbird voice that carries clear as a bell across the audience. During her featured solo -“I Know It’s Today”- she gives a dynamic portrayal of a woman pushed over the edge in desperation, creating an honest depth to the otherwise static, albeit, humorous character. Ahmed is a talented dancer, leading the rats during “Morning Person” and her timing for “I Think I Got You Beat” is impeccable, showing a keen understanding of rhythm.

It’s a battle of comedy kings when it comes to who plays their character more over- the-top, Donkey (Eyvo) or Lord Farquaad (Jamie Mikijanic). Eyvo is an absolute ham, mugging out to the audience every chance he gets. Generally this would be horribly distracting but it suits the character so well, in this instance, that you wish he’d do it more. Throwing in hilarious local and pop cultural references, Eyvo really wrangles in the laughs from those listening. His voice is strong and pure, especially for “Don’t Let Me Go.” And when he starts his crazy spastic dancing in “Make A Move” it’s uproarious. A true comic king, Eyvo is one of two reasons you must see this show.

The other reason may look small but he’s a hilarious force to be reckoned with; Jamie Mikijanic taking the Farquaad character to new hilarious heights. Playing the miniature king with an extreme flamboyance to the point of melodramatic caricature-likeness, Mikijanic is the funniest thing to set foot on the stage. Whether he’s flipping his hair or prancing about – he gives Farquaad a radiantly flaming lifestyle the likes of which you’ve never seen. His voice is pitch-perfect and his belts are astounding, especially for “What’s Up, Duloc?” And when he digs into “The Ballad of Farquaad,” he shows the versatile ability to go from deep brooding belts to hilarious hijinx. Mikijanic steals the show, hands down, and is well worth the trek to see in his comic musical.

Gannon Webb (Pinocchio), Eyvo (Donkey ), and the Fairytale Ensemble. Photo by Scott Serio and Cecil Scene.
Gannon Webb (Pinocchio), Eyvo (Donkey ), and the Fairytale Ensemble. Photo by Scott Serio and Cecil Scene.

It’s time to sing a song, yes a travel song, because you’ve got to go somewhere. And that somewhere is up to The Milburn Stone Theatre to see Shrek the Musical before it finds its happily ever after on the 8th of September. 

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Shrek the Musical plays through September 8, 2013 at The Milburn Stone Theatre—1 Seahawk Drive, in North East, MD. For tickets, call the box office (410) 287-1037, or purchase them online.