Making the Grades
Shrek became a household name in 2001, when William Steig‘s book Shrek! was turned into an animated film about an ugly ogre, a loud-mouth donkey and a not-so-distressed damsel named Fiona. The popularity of the movie, that took ample jabs at fairytale stereotypes, spawned three more sequels: Shrek 2, Shrek The Third and Shrek Forever After. In 2008 it also became the bases for a Broadway musical. This stage production was filmed and released to home video in October 2013.
Those familiar with the Dreamwork’s movie won’t be too surprised by the script for the play. The plot is still about a maligned Ogre (Brian d’Arcy James) who has become content with living alone, and is therefore not very happy when a mob of misfits moves into his swamp. Cast out by Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber), the group of fairytale characters, including Pinocchio (John Tartaglia), Peter Pan (Denny Paschall), and the Big Bad Wolf (Chris Hoch), uses Shrek’s desire to have them removed as a reason why the green monster should petition the despot to allow them to return to their place amongst the more-normal residents of the land. But when Shrek, who is now being tailed by an annoying-but-lonely Donkey (Daniel Breaker), talks to the short-of-stature ruler, he is told his wish for peace and quiet will only be granted if he can rescue Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster) from a dragon-guarded tower and bring her back to the castle to be Farquaad’s bride.
Part of the fun of watching a live production is seeing how the characters, sets and action has been adapted for the stage. In this case, amazing make-up and costumes are used to turn people into all kinds of creatures—sometimes almost before your eyes. The puny Farquaad is especially interesting. To create the illusion of his size, false legs are pinned along the actor’s thighs, and he plays the part kneeling.
Another thing viewers will notice is that most of the dialogue in now written to music. While the songs sometimes depict scenes differently than the film, or the plot takes a detour to show off some dancing, the general storyline is still the same. So is the presence of flatulence humor and sexual innuendo. The movie’s message about seeing beyond outward appearances and having tolerance for those who are different does seem to take a subtle spin though. At the finale when the gang of unwanted creatures is at last allowed to celebrate their differences, the lyrics make references to cross dressing and fairies, which adds a slightly different interpretation to the chorus’s anthem, “Let Your Freak Fly.”
Anyone who enjoyed the original Shrek, likely won’t be disappointed by the talented performances presented here—that is if you don’t find musicals too tedious (there are at least 17 songs and a few dance numbers). And anyone who had reservations with the content before will likely find they have some of the same concerns. I guess it only goes to prove that an Ogre by any other name would smell the same…
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Shrek The Musical.
Ever wonder what the actors look like when they aren’t hidden behind all that make-up? Check out their photos here: