For area summer and regional theaters, this, it seems, is the season for “Shrek: The Musical,’ and area audiences can’t get enough of it.
The tale of the grouchy green ogre began life in 1990 as a children’s book. In 2004, it hit the silver screen in a popular animated movie. Its third incarnation was in 2008 when it moved to Broadway and, subsequently, to tours around the country.
Children of all ages (and their parents and grandparents) react with love and laughter to the efforts of an unloved ogre’s efforts to rescue a princess — not to awaken her with a kiss but for a really unpleasant royal who wants to marry her for her crown.
At The Barn, veteran singer/actor Eric Parker has found his season’s role as Shrek. It suits perfectly his vocal range and comedic acting talents. Snarling and growling and roaring and — well, if you know anything about Shrek, you know the posterior blast at which he is an expert — he is the hero in villain’s clothing (green, that is). Trumpet-shaped ears twitching and giant belly bouncing in frustrated anger, he is on a quest to regain his beloved swamp for himself ALONE, the last being the key word to his happiness.
For this reason only he finally accedes to the pleas of the fairytale folk, banished to his swamp by the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad (Kevin Robert White), to “rescue” the Princess Fiona (Melissa Cotton), waiting impatiently in her tower. This, the devious Farquaad has promised, will let the fairytalers return to their homes in Duloc, leaving the swamp for Shrek.
On his quest, Shrek is aided (?) by the world’s most irritatingly loquacious Donkey (Bradford Lewis Rolen), definitely not his first choice for a traveling companion. Nevertheless, the duo proceeds towards the “happily ever after” sought for all fairy tales, which definitely means different things to different people.
Any production of “Shrek: The Musical” must be a total company project. The Barn is fortunate in having Parker (at his best!) and Cotton (also giving her best performance of the season) and Rolen (definitely funny and, even better, 99 percent articulate). White has a built-in visual laugh at his first entrance, but his Farquaad is way more fey than necessary to sustain the humor.
Collectively and individually, the fairytale folk (including the Kelsey Braman’s Dragon and Jamey Grisham’s Pinocchio) are delightful. Their opening “The Goodbye Song” in which they urge Shrek on his way, and especially the “Freak Flag” are highlights as are the tap dancing rats, the back-up singing three blind mice and the assorted knights and guards.
Parker raises the roof with Shrek’s decision to “Build A Wall” and his duet with Fiona, “I Think I Got You Beat” is a show-stopper (on many levels). Cotton’s strong soprano gives warmth and power to all her vocal assignments and she creates a princess to be reckoned with.
In this production, applause must go to the costumes (excepting only the Gingerbread Man’s baking sheet which badly needs to be sprayed down or changed for one that is not blinding) and the five-piece band which supplies solid support throughout. The set pieces are designed to do at least double duty and work well considering the frequency with which they must come and go.
Jeanine Tesori’s score is pleasant if not memorable and David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics offer just the right mixture of satire and slapstick, leaving leeway for director Hans Friedrichs to insert some humor of his own. All in all combining for a very fun evening.
“SHREK: THE MUSICAL” plays through Aug. 18 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit www.barntheatre.com