On paper it sounds like this shouldn’t work: a Broadway musical based on the animated film Shrek, a movie that made fun of musicals and other animated films. In fact, the film went to great lengths to point out how annoying it can be when characters break into song. You may recall Shrek yelling at donkey, “No singing!” Add to the mix that the four human leads in the play would be required to mimic the voiceover performances of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, as well as their CG rendered characters, and you can understand why I was a little cynical about Shrek: The Musical.
Guess what. It does work; it works very well. The book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and the music by Jeanine Tesori are whimsical, fun and full of emotion. The writers took the opportunity to flesh out the backstories of the main characters through song, as well as enhancing key moments from the film with catchy melodies and smart wordplay.
Furthermore, the four leads in the play (as presented by this recording of a perfomrance while the show still featured its orignal cast) make the characters their own, despite the restrictions playing those animated characters placed on them. Brian d’Arcy James, working in a fat suit and mounds of green latext, helps us understand where Shrek’s anger comes from. Daniuel Breaker, stuck inside a full body suit of faux fur, steals each scene he’s in and makes you forget about Eddie Murphy. Sutton Foster’s Fiona is nothing like her cinematic version, as this beloved actress gives the character a goofy charm that’s nonexistent in the animated film. And Christopher Sieber, who performs the entire show on his knees, brings more humanity to the diminutive Lord Farquaad.
My family has been a fan of Shrek: The Musical for years. Not because we saw it live, but because we happened upon a sneak preview of this film four years ago. At the time, the production was incomplete, with many of the closeups near the end of the show in dire need of some Photoshop magic. By the time the final curtain drops, James’ makeup is peeling off and Breaker’s face is drneched with sweat. Not that you’d notice this during a live show, but with a camera zoomed in on the actor’s face it becomes a little distracting.
The producers have taken the years to make sure each shot is clean and consistent. This means you and your family will have plenty of time to become familiar and fall in love with songs like “Story of My Life” (sung by Pinocchio and his fellow displaced storybook characters), “Travel Song” (sung by Donkey and Shrek, as they head off on their journey to rescue Princess Fiona) and “What’s Up, Duloc?” (sung by Farquaad).
Elsewhere in the play, there are powerful numbers such as Fiona’s lovely “I Know It’s Today,” which features the character at three different ages (played by three different actresses, including Foster), and the triumphant, “Who I’d Be,” which close out Act One.
Besides the great songs, there are plenty of laughs. If you’re a fan of Broadway musicals, you’ll recognize the references to A Chorus Line, Wicked, Les Miz, The Lion King, Sondheim, and the work of Bob Fosse. Like the movie from which Shrek: The Musical is based, this play is often irreverent and pokes fun at the medium, but it’s all good-natured (which isn’t always true about the films).
Jason Moore directed the Broadway play, and Michael Warren directed this filmed performance. Warren does an excellent job of capturing every great moment of the play, and has chosen his angles and shot composition wisely. While there are a few times when I wish the camera was locked down, or we got a better view of the entire stage, these are minor quibbles. The Shrek: The Musical Blu-ray captures all of the glory of the Broadway production. If you’re like me, and you can’t afford to take the entire family to a show, this is a nice substitute. Nothing can replicate the live experience, but hopefully this release will give youngsters a taste of musicals and create a life long love of the theater.