Friday, December 9, 2011

Arsht Center: Shrek the Musical (2 reviews)

The national tour of Shrek The Musical opened at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on December 6, 2011.
SHREK THE MUSICAL, based on the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks film that started it all, brings the hilarious story of everyone's favorite ogre to life on stage. In a faraway kingdom turned upside down, things get ugly when an unseemly ogre – not a handsome prince – shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a donkey who won't shut up, a villain with a SHORT temper, a cookie with an attitude and over a dozen other fairy tale misfits, and you've got the kind of mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there's one on hand… and his name is Shrek. Featuring a terrific score of 19 all-new songs, big laughs, great dancing and breathtaking scenery.
Stephen Sposito directed a cast that included Lukas Poost, Liz Shivener, Andre Jordan, and Merritt David Jaynes.

Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
If you like your music at eleven on the Spinal Tap Scale you're going to love Shrek The Musical, now playing at The Arsht Center.  And if you like your singing pitched so high that it can be heard only by seeing-eye dogs and Andalusian bats, you're going to be drooling with pleasure.  And if flatulence and eructation are just the funniest things you can think of, you'll be dancing in the aisles
The ensemble numbers are clever and well done, (wonderful dancing rats) but far too few, and that's just one of the problems with this production.  We are treated to far too much Ogre and The Princess angst.  The show is messy, some characters like Farquaad (a marvelously funny Merritt David Janes)  and Donkey, played by André Jordan, are well portrayed, others are just annoying and unintelligible.
The music, by Jeanine Tesori, is not really memorable and is easily topped by the entire cast performing a raucous version of Neil Diamond's old rock song, “I'm A Believer,” as a closer after the curtain call.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Streaks of imagination and wit surface frequently, but this generally unengaging mediocrity misses the effortless irreverence in Dreamworks’ animated romance between a large green ogre and a beautiful princess.
...this fairy tale theoretically designed to enchant children and tickle adults doesn’t cast much of a magic spell because the creators simply haven’t found the winking subversive alchemy that was innately part of the 2001 romp. Here, even the nose-thumbing jokes seem as calculated as a Disney theme park ride.
One of the real problems with the show is its score by Jeanine Tesori, the unassailably talented composer of Violet and Caroline, Or Change. She could not be a worse fit for the material. Tesori writes art songs that make you think, exemplified by a stubborn aversion to staying in anything resembling the same tempo, key, rhythm or meter for more than four bars of music. That’s fine when a show aims to force the audience to think deeply, but not for one that is essentially a mindless goofy spoof.
It was also hard to know opening night whether large sections of the score were totally absent melody or whether the sound board allowed the orchestra underscoring to drown out the singers’ melody line. Half the lyrics by Lindsay-Abaire were unintelligible.
You can’t fault the energy or singing ability of the cast, especially Liz Shivener as the spunky Princess Fiona (although she lacks her cinematic avatar’s independence) and Merritt David Jabes as the dwarfish villain Lord Farquaad (the actor gleefully dances on his knees while hiding behind tiny fake legs). Lukas Poost is adequate as our hapless hero but he doesn’t have the film Shrek’s rare mix of lovability and curmudgeonability. He had it in the opening scene, but it evaporated soon after.
The most inspired part of the production is its use of puppetry based on scenic designer Tim Hatley’s vision. There’s a wise-cracking gingerbread man barely a yard tall plastered to a pan, a cow jumping over a moon and above all, a spectacular War Horse-type creation of a huge female dragon who flies over the other actors, plops to her haunches, bats her eyes and curls her tail.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Shrek the Musical got decent reviews and ran on Broadway for more than a year. No, that isn’t Lion King huge, but Shrek works as theater. And as you’ll see if you catch the touring production at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts before its short run ends Sunday, the show is (like Shrek himself) one big hoot.
...Kids love the pretty princess, the cool giant dragon puppet, the wise-cracking Donkey and the belching-flatulence contest between Shrek and Fiona. Adults dig the smart, wry humor, a combination of dialogue from the movie and great lines (and lyrics) by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire.
And theater buffs get an extra layer of pleasure from Shrek the Musical, as way-versatile composer Jeanine Tesori fleetingly references a host of iconic moments from other musicals: Rose’s Turn from Gypsy for Mama Bear; Defying Gravity from Wicked for the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad; Take Me or Leave Me from Rent for Donkey; And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls for the Dragon; the flag-waving scene from Les Misérables for the fairy-tale characters.
...the talent does joyful justice to the show. Decked out in Hatley’s fanciful, Tony Award-winning costumes, a cast full of big voices takes the audience on a familiar-yet-fresh journey.
Lukas Poost, who appropriates Mike Myers’ Scottish accent as Shrek, is (despite his facial prosthetics) expressive and endearing. Liz Shivener, who played Belle opposite another over-sized leading man in Beauty and the Beast at the Arsht last season, is spunky and winningly funny. André Jordan as the motor-mouthed Donkey and Merritt David Janes as that pipsqueak lothario Farquaad walk away with the funniest moments in the show — and Janes does so on his knees.
Shrek the Musical plays at the Arsht Center through December 11, 2011.

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