Encore Stage & Studio presents Shrek, the Musical , with Music by Jeanine Tesori and Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Artistic Director Susan Alison Keady and Music Director Matthew Heap lead a large group of enthusiastic young actors in this production.
Set Designer and Technical Director Kristen Jepperson uses large set pieces that are wheeled on and offstage, such as a princess’ tower or a swamp shack. One clever thing about the set that I enjoyed was a built-in tread belt and trampoline, which allowed the characters to walk in place on their “long journeys.” I enjoyed the lighting by master electrician Gary Hauptman (particularly a fiery effect in the dragon’s lair), though there were some unfortunate instances of mic popping and feedback at my show. Costume Designer Debra Leonard uses found bit and pieces– from face paint and tutus, to colored pajama bottoms– to create an ensemble of fairy tale characters, all easily recognizable.
The show begins with Shrek’s parents teaching him a life lesson in the number “Big Bright Beautiful World.” Despite the cheery title, the song is anything but; because Shrek is an ogre, he is doomed to be a despised outcast, and is told to isolate himself from a world that is indeed “big, bright, and beautiful…but not for you.”
Now grown, Shrek (Jason Krage) has settled into his quiet, lonely life at the swamp, which is rattled when our beloved fairy tale characters are deemed “freaks” because of their differences (sung about in the number “Story of My Life”) and banished to the swamplands by Lord Farquaad, a standout performance by William Shingler.
Shrek goes to Farquaad’s castle to complain, and is met with a proposal: if he voyages to a remote castle and rescues the imprisoned Princess Fiona (a bold, feisty performance by Carla Astudillo) for Farquaad to wed, the unwanted extra company will be moved elsewhere. Thrills, adventure, and surprises follow Shrek on his quest, alongside an annoying tag-along Donkey played by Chris Gallegos. In the middle of a word of fairytales, the unlikeliest hero may finally find his happy ending.
There were a few musical numbers in this show that I really enjoyed. Choreographer Kelsey Meiklejohn did a great job with “What’s Up, Duloc?,” where the dancers moved somewhat robotically, as if they were puppets on strings.
“Morning Person” is also a good number– tap-dancing rats are always a good idea! The one glaring issue that I had with this production was the running time– Encore decided to perform the full Broadway version of this show, and while that is admirable and ambitious, two and a half hours is an awfully long time for a children’s show, and even I found my attention wandering after a while. I do wish that they condensed the material a bit, or performed the Shrek, the Musical, JR. version that is available that runs 60 minutes.
One must also remember that the actors in this ensemble are young– so yes, some performances and vocals could use polishing– but their enthusiasm is contagious, and some real talent can be seem brewing. Jesse Pollack got a lot of laughs with his portrayal of Pinocchio, and Zoe Rocchio shows off a great singing voice as the Dragon.
Overall, Encore Stage and Studio’s production of Shrek, the Musical is a good way for the family to escape the summer heat!
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Shrek, the Musical plays through July 26 2015 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at The Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 548-1154, or purchase them online.