Saturday, December 27, 2008

Review: Shrek, the Musical

This Musical Might Be Able to Stay in the Green
By Lauren Yarger
Despite the economic climate that will bring down the curtain for 12 Broadway shows next month, at least one production looks like it might have a chance to stay in the green – and we don’t mean just ogre makeup and swamp sets.

It’s Shrek, one of the most solidly cast and humorous musicals to hit the Great White Way in some time. Based on William Steig’s book “Shrek!” and the hit animated movie of the same name, Shrek follows the adventures of a green ogre (Brian d’Arcy James) who finds his swamp hideaway overrun by fairytale characters thrown out of their homeland by Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber) who wants to be king. There’s just one problem, he doesn’t have a princess to marry to make it possible for him to sit on the throne. Shrek sets off on a quest to bring back Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster) as Farquaad’s bride and to reclaim his swamp as a reward.

Along the way, he befriends a talking donkey (Daniel Breaker), battles a huge dragon (Tim Hatley designed the fabulous sets, costumes and puppets with illusion consultation from Marshall Magoon) and falls in love with Fiona who has a secret of her own. Hatley brings to life a swamp full of fairytale characters with the high-pitched, whining, lying Pinocchio (John Tartaglia, who also gives voice to Hatley’s huge magic mirror and doubles as the dragon puppeteer) stealing many scenes.

Hatley’s larger-than-life sets create the swamp as well as Farquaad’s castle and include moving pieces that help create a sense of time passing as the characters travel between them. The hit costume is Farquaad’s, which transforms the 6-foot-plus Sieber into the vertically challenged lord and brings sputters of laugher, especially when expertly used to advantage in Josh Prince’s choreography.

The cast, under the director of Jason Moore, shines. D’Arcy is transformed into a replica of the cartoon character (Naomi Donne, makeup design; David Brian Brown, wig/hair design), complete with a Scottish accent à la Mike Meyers (who provided the ogre’s voice in the film). Some added exposition from David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) about how Shrek’s parents abandoned him when he was 7 gives us some insight in to his irritation with people.

“You’re ugly, son, so that means life is harder.”

D’Arcy let’s us see through the gruff and frightening exterior to the heart of the character—which ultimately is the message of Shrek.

Sutton Foster, cast in the first role since Thoroughly Modern Millie that finally lets her strut her stuff, sings, dances and even belches and passes gas in “I Think I Got You Beat,” a bizarre love song with Shrek which makes the parents wince and the kids giggle. Foster makes the awkward Fiona charming. Fiona’s “I Know It’s Today,” a song sung with her younger selves (Rachel Resheff and Leah Greenhaus who alternate performances and Marissa O’Donnell) is beautiful and a highlight of Jeanine Tesori’s score.

Sieber skillfully plays Farquaad with just enough pomp to keep a running gag funny and the ensemble is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Every fairytale character who steps out for a line of dialogue or song is top notch.

The book sticks close to the movie script. In keeping the Donkey, however, Lindsay-Abaire might have stuck a little too close. Breaker certainly is capable and has a lovely singing voice, but the character is superfluous. The movie version features comedian Eddie Murphy’s voice bringing his own personality to the character. Here, we’re either thinking Breaker is imitating Murphy or falling short in the attempt. It would have been better to eliminate a part that is a vehicle for comedic genius on film, but which fails to find its place amidst a stage already full of entertaining characters..

The book also relies on the fact that the audience has seen the movie. Those who hadn’t were trying to figure out what was going on, particularly with regards to Fiona’s secret, by asking questions of their fellow audience members at intermission.

Despite the need for a few tweaks, the musical is entertaining for both young and old and may be one of the few shows that have a chance of bringing in some green through the economic downturn.

Christians might also like to know:
• Minor language
• One of the fairytale characters ends up being a cross dresser

No comments:
Create A Buzz About Your Book
Custom Search
Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

All Posts on this Blog