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‘Shrek the Musical’ a delight for all ages

March 24, 2011
By Sarah Reed, Theater Columnist

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's "Shrek the Musical," which ran March 15-20 at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, was highly entertaining!

Although Shrek and his friends have moved on from the Benedum Center after a short stay, the memory of his presence and the fun-loving musical about his journey of finding acceptance and love will not soon be forgotten.

Based on the first DreamWorks film in the popular series, "Shrek the Musical" tells the story of an ogre named Shrek who was sent away by law from his home at age 7. From then on he is forced to fend for himself on a lonely swampland. When he meets a group of fairytale creatures who have been banished to his swampland by the evil Lord Farquaad because he has decreed them "odd," Shrek, by their compelling, embarks on a journey to confront Farquaad, and eventually and unbenounced to himself, find true love.

Eric Petersen's portrayal of the cynical and cranky ogre Shrek had the perfect amount of stand-offishness without making his Shrek cold or unlikable, and also had a rather vulnerable and loveable side. Petersen's strong and exquisite singing voice, coupled with his impeccable Scottish brogue, made his performance thoroughly engaging and well-rounded.

Haven Burton's Princess Fiona, the young princess who had a curse put upon her as a child by a witch and who has been locked in a tower ever since, was surprisingly and pleasantly delicate. Burton's graceful carriage and perky demeanor made her Fiona a great joy to watch. Burton's beautiful and agile singing voice brought an even deeper dimension to her character and heightened the enjoyment of her onstage presence.

Alan Mingo Jr.'s Donkey, Shrek's faithful and incredibly lively companion, was brimming with an un-ending supply of energy. Mingo brought a great sense of humor to his role and possessed an outstanding singing voice.

David F.M. Vaughn's Lord Farquaad was very flamboyant and playful, and Blakely Slaybaugh's physically agile Pinocchio was sassy.

The ensemble consisted of a talented group of singer-dancers who kept the energy and joy of the show coursing flawlessly, particularly during their extravagant dance scenes. One such moment was in "Freak Flag," an up-tempo song that encouraged everybody to embrace their individuality and the individuality of others.

To envelope the audience completely in the illusion of a fairytale world, the sets, costumes and makeup each contributed enormously. The sets, whether it was towering trees in the forest or Lord Farquaad's castle, had an impressive depth to them, and in the case of the forest were so cavernous that other set pieces could be hidden behind them, like a large, brilliant sun, that could be exposed in an instant.

The costumes also had dazzling illusionary effects such as creating Lord Farquaad's dwarfish stature. Vaughn performed the role on his knees with a long, draping cape covering his real legs and a special contraption that created the illusion of his short stature. Pinocchio's costume also was very eye-catching, with his wood and joint-like covering on his arms and legs and his nose that grew right before the audience's eyes.

The makeup, especially Shrek's, was remarkable. Petersen's physical appearance was completely transformed to Shrek's portly appearance - particularly in his face and neck. They were covered by thick, glossy silicone pieces, creating a very real Shrek.

The musical score, written mostly by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics David Lindsay-Abaire, was filled with bouncy and joyous tunes. The production also featured two songs from the film - "Welcome to Duloc" and "I'm a Believer," the latter of which was performed by the full cast during the curtain-call and brought the show to a rock concert-like finish.

Simply put, the touring production of "Shrek the Musical" was filled with unforgettably magical moments and was purely enjoyable from beginning to end - an uproariously good time at the theater, flatulence and all.

(Sarah Reed is theater critic for Weekender.)

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