Arts & Entertainment

'Shrek' is perfect holiday show on Littleton stage

By Sonya Ellingboe
Posted 11/24/15

New Yorker cartoonist William Steig wrote one of his unusual children’s books in 1990 — about an unhappy green ogre named “Shrek,” who was sent off to live alone in the Swamp …

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Arts & Entertainment

'Shrek' is perfect holiday show on Littleton stage

Posted

New Yorker cartoonist William Steig wrote one of his unusual children’s books in 1990 — about an unhappy green ogre named “Shrek,” who was sent off to live alone in the Swamp as a 7-year-old by his parents — because that’s what ogres do. “It’s a Bright, Beautiful World,” they assure the sad little guy as he trudges away. He grows up defensive of his personal, swampy space and convinced his homeliness condemns him to a life alone.

“Shrek” was developed first in London’s West End, then came across the pond to Broadway. Music is by Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire; originally produced as an animated film by Dreamworks Productions.

Todd Debreceni has constructed the many clever prosthetic makeup effects that include puffy green hands for the ogre characters, especially for T. J. Hogle, who is reprising the roe of Shrek. Young ogres become older and uglier, and some fairy-tale characters had Hogle’s help as well, I think. (It was fun to see everyone involved with the production sprouting little green ears on opening night.)

In the meantime, Princess Fiona (Rebekah Ortiz) has been sent to live in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon — with a curse hanging over her head.

The book’s original panels were illustrated with fanciful characters as Steig happily introduced an entire realm of fairy-tale personalities, accumulated from tales we all know, to Shrek’s lonely swamp: Pinnochio, Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, Sugar Plum Fairy, Mad Hatter, Big Bad Wolf, Peter Pan, Wicked Witch, Elf, Fairy Godmother, White Rabbit, a delightful crew of tap-dancing gray rats (Cinderella’s coach horses), gingerbread boy, and assorted other magical personalities …

The costumes for this show, by Terri and Laurie Fong, are worth the price of a ticket — they are absolutely wonderful, as are Bob Wells’ spot-on direction and Kelly Kates’ choreography. One wonders how Wells kept track of the character changes, entrances and exits of all these critters and fanciful folks (highly organized, though at times chaotic in appearance). They have a credo of “Keep Your Freak Flag Flying” that delivers a message of tolerance threading through the musical.

And then there’s the live-wire donkey (Tyrell Ray), who becomes Shrek’s sidekick — and the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (a skilled Cory Wendling), who wants to marry Fiona so he can become king, in a particularly fine performance.

Master puppeteer Cory Gilstrap has created a huge red dragon and taught a group of actors to manipulate it so it fills the stage for a scene, like a traditional Chinese Dragon Dance puppet.

Donna Debrecini is musical director and recorded the not-entirely-memorable score for the large cast so the musical flows really smoothly, despite outbursts by Donkey and others that are all precisely timed.

This is a perfect holiday confection for all but the tiniest theater fan. Not sugary-sweet, but one to inspire kindness — what better message for the festival of light and love?

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