Friday, April 24, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Wave Your Freak Flag @ Wheelock Family Theatre

Director Shelley Bolman puts the Wheelock touch on SHREK THE MUSICAL (frolicking through May 24th). The Broadway musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori is based on the first animated feature to win an Oscar (which is itself based on William Steig’s picture book).

You may recall that Michael Meyers and Eddie Murphy voiced Shrek the ogre and his donkey side kick in the DreamWorks film. Wheelock has Christopher Chew and Maurice Emmanuel Parent to make their SHREK sheer joy. You can’t help but fall in love with these two hapless creatures.

If you’re a longtime Wheelock fan, you’ll recognize characters from their shows, like Peter Pan and Pippi Longstocking, popping up when the nasty little Prince (Mark Linehan on his knees with dancing legs attached!) exiles all the fairy tale “freaks” to Shrek’s back yard. Needless to say, Shrek is not happy about the relocation.

Adults and children alike will delight in the irreverent humor, with the grownup references sailing over the kiddies’ heads. Parents will chuckle to learn that in ogre families, the kids leave home at seven! Lindsay-Abaire had great fun peppering the musical with cheeky spoofs of other movies and musicals: GYPSY, THE MUSIC MAN, 42nd STREET, DREAMGIRLS, LES MIZ, BABE all take a hit but it’s an affectionate jab which doesn’t spoil the innocence of the story.

The ogre who’d rather be alone discovers that he can allow others into his life. There’s a big message about tolerance in the musical but Shrek’s journey is what makes it a treat. Shrek and the Princess he’s been looking for (Shonna Cirone) have a delicious duet (a la Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better”) called “I Think I Got You Beat.” Simply hilarious! The songs are more than clever, with “Keep Your Freak Flag Waving” a lovely, foot stomping anthem for standing proud and celebrating being different.

Charles Baldwin’s quirky costumes reflect all the characters’ personalities, with the Donkey’s getup a highlight. How he managed to costume this cast of thousands is beyond me. There’s a marvelous huge dragon (gorgeously sung by Brittany Rolfs), even a tiny Puss in Boots passes by. Michael Stern’s music direction is one of the chief reasons that SHREK sounds as good as it looks. I laughed even more than the children in the audience. Then just when you think the show has ended, they lift it even higher with everyone singing the 1960s Monkeys’ hit, “I’m a Believer.”