Review by Danny Gaisin
Confession; this writer had never seen neither the movie nor even knew about the Jeanine Tesori ’08 musical version. So, witnessing the Meadowvale Music Theatre’s production of SHREK was obviously without bias or comparison. This ridiculous story about a misanthropic reclusive ogre having his ‘hood invaded by refugee storybook characters and thus necessitated to renegotiate his real estate situation turns out to be a ridiculously ‘punny’ opportunity for rare directorial liberties and cast members to vent their individual innate sense of humour.
Naturally, such a plot requires creative costuming and highly detailed makeup. MMT’s director Renee Beiforte who also choreographed Shrek chose the best and most experienced production team to make the production appeal to an audience. She’s succeeded impeccably. With over thirty people on stage, the support members still are responsible for as many as four different depictions, no mean feat unless one is trained in repertory- a rarity in community theatre. There are three major roles and two pivotal “2nd Banana’s; Beiforte has chosen their portrayers with perspicacity and insight…each one seems well suited to his or her role reading. Naturally, SHREK is the focal protagonist and Russ Underdown not only looks ogre-ish he is rather intimidating yet his metamorphosis from sardonic pessimist to empathetic philanthropist flows credibly and seamless. I don’t know if his Sean Connery Scottish accent is his natural speaking voice or if it’s a managerial directive, but it’s surely effective as a narrative vehicle.
His Jerry Lewis/Stan Laurel/Lou Costello ‘so-called ‘straight man’ role is “Donkey” and Chris Waldron imbues his depiction with some rather subtle body language. He also has the opportunity to delicately manipulate Underdown and has some of the better punchlines such as directing Shrek to Duloc advising him to turn left at Square One!, or the pun-filled descriptive of vertically challenged Lord Farquaad as being great at small talk etc. Farquaad is played by Darryl Burton on his knees with little feeties bouncing in front – he’s a pure hoot even when being a pint-sized bully. The love interest is Princess Fiona, and is portrayed by Karen Chorney (with Chloe Bailey & Grace Pulo as Teen-aged & young versions respectively.) The latter has an almost operatic soprano voice with amazing clarity. Chorney brings an almost ‘J-A-P’ interpretation in that she’s a sweetie pie unless Shrek doesn’t comply with her fairy-tale inspired agenda…then – watch out! The (Urinetown ‘Bobby Strong’) rebel leader is Pinocchio and Mark Jones makes his bones as he couples with defending his boy/puppet dichotomy with his desire to lead the fairy taler’s to a safe domicile.
There is an outrageous parody scene emulating the Annie Get Your Gun duet about ‘Anything you can do’ number titled “I think I got you beat”, except this competition is in bad breath; farting; scaring & more farting. Oy Vey! Two outstanding musical moments are ”I know it’s today” sung by the three interpreting Fiona’s and the donkey/Shrek duet “Travelling Song”. As chorus presentations the ‘white tie (& of course – tails) Hamelin rats tapping choreographed as if by Busby Berkeley, but without the staircase.
The costuming is obviously super expensive; the sets are created for speedy scene changing and the staging – clever. The music under Erica Feggans was a little loud at the beginning but was reined in and faultless from then on. Audiences will (maybe) recognize La Bohème; “Rent”; WICKED and “Les Miz” plus some book quotes from Judy Blume. But the most familiar is the finale. As soon as I heard Neil Diamond’s ♪I thought love was only true in fairy tales…but now I’m a believer♪ ” This scribe sang the entire lyrics – along with others, I’m sure. Matter of fact, neither the muse nor producer Donna Feggans seated nearby “Shushed me . Come see SHREK at the Meadowvale Theatre; you’ll be a believer too. It runs until Feb. 28th. Call 905-615-4720.