Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Shrek The Musical
The show has the advantage of being based on a hit movie that appealed to both kids and adults. Not every film-to-stage adaptation works, but this one does. A lot of the credit goes to the very funny script and witty lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (surprising, in that he has written some quite serious plays as well). The music by Jeanine Tesori is not immediately memorable, but it serves the purpose.
If you're not familiar with the movie, it's just as well, since you won't be comparing the stage show with the film version all the time. The basic plot is that Shrek is an ogre, ostracized because of his appearance and because everyone assumes that all ogres are vicious bad guys. His quiet home in a swamp is suddenly overrun by fairy-tale characters who have been exiled from the city of Duloc by the real bad guy, Lord Farquaad. Elsewhere, the princess Fiona has been locked in a tower, a la Rapunzel, for years, waiting for a noble hero to come and rescue her. What happens in the rest of the show is so charming that it should be seen, not revealed here.
Director Brian Clifton has put together an amazing crew and a wonderful cast of 29. Most of the actors change costumes once or more, so some of the real stars of the show are people we never see: costume designer Joe Moncada and wardrobe assistants Frances Garcia, Patricia Thompson, and Emma Ziegler. The sets, designed by Glenn Pepe, Thane Kenny, and Henry Avery, and built by Thane and a lot of other people, are excellent, allowing no time to elapse between scene changes.
Music direction by Cheryl Sharps is finethe music is recorded, but the singing is terrific. Choreography by Peter Bennett is great fun, especially the tap-dancing mice. Lighting by Joseph A Wasson Jr., props by Katie Gallegos, and sound by Lando Ruiz are all top-notch. (The sound, which used to be a distraction at many of the the company's musicals in the past, has gotten much better lately.) The stagehands are too numerous to mention, but this production could not succeed without them. And, somehow, Tobanna Barker, the production coordinator and stage manager, wrangles this big group of people into never missing a cue.
The cast is so deep in talent that a lot of people who have had leads in other plays (Nicholas Handley, David Bello, Abby Van Gerpen, and Laura Nuzum, for example) are taking on smaller roles here, and they and the many other players elevate the show to a high level of performance. Jason Wiley looks the part, but much of the time he underplays the title role. His voice is good but his singing is a little tentative. It makes for an endearing Shrek, but he could be more animated at times.
The other three leads are simply terrific. Nicholas Laemmer, who has to spend the entire show on his knees, is hilarious as Farquaad, and what a voice he has. Paul Ashby, always an excellent performer, is hyper-dynamic as Donkey, Shrek's sidekick. The big revelation is Christine Smith as Fiona. Singing, acting, dancing, she is a perfect triple threat. Why isn't she on Broadway?
This is not just a show for kids, although they will definitely enjoy it. It's clever and energetic enough for adults to have a great time, too. Only a real ogre would not love this Shrek.
Shrek The Musical, through March 31, 2019, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00; extra matinee on Saturday 3/16 at 2:00 and extra evening show on Thursday 3/21 at 7:30. Tickets $17 to $25. For tickets and information, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.