‘Shrek The Musical’ at The Alliance Theatre

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Where can you find a combination of a fire-breathing dragon, a dozen fairy tale characters, first-rate singing, dancing, and comedy, an ogre, a princess, a king, and a donkey, plus important life lessons? That’s easy—it’s The Alliance Theatre’s production of Shrek The Musical. This show received seven Tony Awards nominations, and features music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, and is based on the 2001 Oscar-winning Dreamworks film and the 1990 book by William Steig. Maggie Swann is serving as the show’s producer.

Glynn Cosker (Shrek), Jennifer LePaige (Fiona), and Devyn Tinker (Donkey).
Glynn Cosker (Shrek), Jennifer LePaige (Fiona), and Devyn Tinker (Donkey).

The musical opens with Shrek (Glynn Cosker), an ogre with green skin and antenna-like protrusions coming out of his head, explaining his childhood to the audience. At the age of seven, Shrek’s parents sent him away and told him that he would always be shunned and disdained by society because of his looks. In “Big Bright Beautiful World, they warn that,

You’re ugly, son, which means that life is harder

People hate the things they cannot understand

And when they look at us they tend to make a fuss

Burn our houses down and chase us off our land

Shrek’s story is temporarily interrupted by Princess Fiona (Jennifer LePaige), explaining her childhood to the audience. At the age of seven, she was sent to a tower, surrounded by a lava moat and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, where she read fairy tales and dreamed of the day she would be rescued by a brave knight. Shrek continues and shows that he is now a bitter and lonely adult, living in self-imposed exile in a swamp on the outskirts of Duloc. Duloc is ruled by the very short, very cruel, and very self-absorbed Lord Farquaad (Spencer Boyd), who wants to be king and is convinced that he must marry a princess to attain that title. Meanwhile, Farquaad has banished a group of fairytale creatures to the swamp land because they are considered “freaks,” so they unwillingly invade Shrek’s private world. Shrek is determined to regain his land, so he and his new friend Donkey (Devyn Tinker) make a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona so she can be his bride. In return, Farquaad would give Shrek title to the swamp.

Under Scott Olson’s fine direction, the lead actors combine their impressive talents into exceptional and convincing performances. We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw any or all of them in future local professional theatre productions. Glynn Cosker (Shrek) has a strong and confident voice which he demonstrates beautifully in “Who I’d Be,” “When Words Fail,” and “Build a Wall.” ! Conductor and Musical Director Laurelyn Morrison and her pit of excellent musicians deserve kudos for their excellent work. 

Jennifer LePaige (Fiona) is a natural comedienne and an excellent singer, as we can see in “I Know It’s Today,” and “Morning Person.” When Cosker and LePaige share the rhythm and blues number, “I Think I Got You Beat,” it’s magical!

Describing his character as “a GPS with fur,” Devyn Tinker (Donkey) is both hip and funny in “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Make a Move.” And, it’s hard to stop laughing when Spencer Boyd (Farquaad) is on stage. He is required to be on his knees most of the time as he struts through “What’s Up Duloc?” and “The Battle of Farquaad.”

With choreography by Annie Bradley Ermlick and Josh Nixon, the ensemble turns in a performance with verve and vitality. In particular, the tap-dancing rats and the three blind mice back-up singers are top-drawer, and the fairytale creatures stop the show with the defiant and triumphant “Freak Flag.”

We’ve got magic, we’ve got power

Who are they to say we’re wrong?

All the things that make us special

Are the things that make us strong

Between the green ogres, a variety of furry animals, a 3-foot king, a fire-breathing dragon and a puppet whose nose grows longer when he tells a lie, you can imagine that Shrek The Musical is extremely challenging from a technical point of view. Props by Ken Clayton, costumes by Sabrina Chandler and Alicia Coleman, make-up by Shavon Harding and Tracy Mullen Cosker, and hair by Amanda Cummings are skillfully integrated to make this fairy tale come to life. It’s particularly interesting that the dragon is carried by stage hands and its body parts are moved by strings—in the manner of Chinese heritage celebrations.

Devyn Tinker (Donkey). Photo courtesy of The Alliance Theatre.
Devyn Tinker (Donkey). Photo courtesy of The Alliance Theatre.

Please don’t be concerned that the technical elements of this production might overshadow the artistic elements. The text runs the gamut of emotions from happiness to sadness and sweetness to silliness. Also, while the musical  conveys a very important message, it does so without being preachy.

Shrek The Musical reminds us that we each have some quality that others might think is weird, odd, or freaky, but our differences are our strengths, and we all deserve love, patience, and respect.

In addition, it was enjoyable seeing very young actors-in-training doing songs and dances that might prove challenging even to the more experienced performers. So, come to a Kingdom Far Far Away and enjoy The Alliance Theatre’s Shrek The Musical. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll have a whole lot of family fun!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Shrek the Musical plays on Friday, August 8th at 7:30 pm, Saturday, August 9th at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sunday, August 10th at 2 pm at The Alliance Theatre performing at Chantilly High School – 4201 Stringfellow Road, in Chantilly, VA. For tickets, call (703) 220-8101, or purchase them online.

LINK:

Shrek The Musical’ Opens at The Alliance Theatre Opens This Friday by Maggie Swan.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.