For Love of Ogre

Princess Fiona has been waiting all her life to find the true love who will rescue her from the clutches of an evil dragon and free her from the curse of a wicked witch.  At long last he arrives.  He’s brave.  He’s bold.  He’s. . .rude??  He’s. . .crude???  He’s an ogre!!!  It is Shrek:  The Musical and it will open Friday at the Schneider Performing Arts Center at Maryville High School under the auspices of Maryville Young Players Second Stage.

For full disclosure, I am related to two of the ensemble performers. 

I attended the penultimate rehearsal of this production and found it to be most enjoyable.  The show has a surprising amount of depth as it adds themes of racism and surface judgments to this fairy tale variation.  Mix in a peppy and moving score by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire combined with some talented principal performers and you’ve got the recipe for a fun night of theatre.

Tye Parsons provides an effective piece of direction to the production.  He has some really great staging and well utilizes the rather large stage.  Actors are effectively placed and know how to use the space.  A particularly clever piece of staging occurs during “Morning Person” when the curtain falls to just shy of the stage so a line of actors playing rats follow Fiona’s merry tune.  Parsons has also guided his thespians to solid performances.

Some strong ensemble performances come from Emily Pearce as a screechy Pinocchio complete with a nose that grows with each lie.  McKenna Liles is a hoot with her puppetry and voicing of the Gingerbread Man and shines with a pre-show comedy bit and with Gingy’s interrogation at the hands of Lord Farquaad.  Speaking of Lord Farquaad, Brewer Wheeler shows immense promise as the show’s villain.  He has an excellent singing voice with energy to match.  Now he just needs to fuse that energy to his character work from the start.  Wheeler was doing just that by the end of the show and it really allowed him to revel in Farquaad’s over the top, theatrical nature.

Wyman Wheeler is marvelous in the title role of Shrek.  At one point, Shrek compares ogres to onions as both have layers and he certainly gives a layered performance.  Wheeler gives Shrek a crusty, curmudgeonly edge, but it’s clear this is just a façade that hides Shrek’s loneliness.  Wheeler maintains Shrek’s Scottish accent throughout the night and even maintains it in his singing.  Wheeler also has a beautiful tenor voice and is an expert in the fine art of acting through the songs with some shining moments being Shrek’s musical duel with Fiona in “I Think I Got You Beat” and the more somber and sweet “Who I’d Be” and “When Words Fail”.

Christy Pearce is almost there as Donkey.  Pearce is very entertaining as the non-stop chatterbox and faithful sidekick and has some nimble wordplay with Donkey’s wisecracks.  But it felt like she was holding back just a bit, though there were several moments when she let go and let er rip which was when she was in full Donkey mode and exactly what the character needed to be.

Jacqui Conn’s Fiona is a very different kind of princess.  At first, she seems like the typical damsel in distress, then shows a very crass, blue collar streak as she happily engages in belching and farting contests with Shrek.  Conn also has a delightful soprano which she uses to literally charm a bird to death (the exploding bird is my favorite moment) in “Morning Person” or pluck a heartstring in “I Know it’s Today”.

Regrettably I did not have a program so I can’t properly credit the scenic designer, but I loved the forest screen and the imposing castle.  Nor can I credit the costume designer who did an excellent job duplicating the looks of the famed fairy tale characters along with Donkey’s full body suit complete with hooves, Shrek’s green make-up, antennae, and mammoth gut, and Fiona’s iconic green dress.

Some cue pickups needed to be tighter, but all this show is really lacking is an audience to add that vital piece of performing energy to the cast and then Shrek will really kick into high gear.  Give it a chance and lose yourself in a merry tale.

Shrek:  The Musical runs at the Schneider Performing Arts Center at Maryville High School from June 24-26.  Showtimes are 7pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday.  Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at http://bit.ly/MYPShrek.  Maryville High School is located at 1503 S Munn Ave in Maryville, MO.

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