How can you tell that the pot-bellied, antenna-eared green ogre named Shrek and assertive, yet incurably romantic Princess Fiona are meant for each other?
They fart and burp with compatible pride. In the shorthand of musical comedy – well, in Shrek, the Musical at least – that means love.
Chances are you know that already from the 2001 Oscar-winning Dreamworks animated film, based on William Steig’s message-laden, but gleefully subversive children’s book. The stage show is not nearly as satirical as the movie, but it will do, thanks to its amusing special effects and sly costumes, which are very much in evidence in the anything-for-a-gag production by Slow Burn Theatre.
Both Shrek and Fiona were rejected and banished by their parents at the age of 7. He took up residence in a swamp on the outskirts of the kingdom of Duloc and she was locked away in a doorless tower.
They might never have met had Duloc’s height-challenged Lord Farquaad not ejected all the local fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters from his land. When they intrude on Shrek’s swamp, he complains to Farquaad, who agrees to get them out of Shrek’s hair – OK, so he’s bald – if he will only rescue Fiona and escort her to Duloc and into Farquaad’s arms.
Composer Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, Or Change) and book writer/lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) have turned this quirky tale that promotes self-esteem and opposes ogre prejudice into a so-so musical, but Slow Burn’s resident director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater does a masterful job with the material and all of its many technical challenges.
You need a flying dragon manned by four puppeteers? No problem. A stageful of tap-dancing rats? Check. A talking gingerbread man? A snap. An instant transformation for Fiona from princess pretty to ogre ugly? Cinchy.
The show is only fitfully amusing and way too long for its own good. Still, Slow Burn’s production is as accomplished as any we are likely to see in the region this season.
Although burdened with a lot of green make-up and a fat suit, Wesley Slade makes a hulking good Shrek who is easy to empathize with. As Fiona, Kimmi Johnson gets some of the score’s best numbers (“Morning Person,” “This Is How A Dream Comes True”) and her my-life-has-been-more-miserable-then-yours duet with Slade (“I Think I Got You Beat”) is the show’s comic highlight.
Clay Cartland’s Lord Farquaad gets enormous comic mileage from his midget suit. And Reynal Reynaldo moves with animal agility as Shrek’s sidekick, Donkey (Cue the ass jokes). If he spoke a little slower, though, his dialogue might be more intelligible. And in the almost two dozen cast members, most of them fairy tale characters ranging from Pinocchio to Humpty Dumpty, there is not a weak link.
Making his Slow Burn debut, scenic designer Kelly James Tighe worked overtime realizing the show’s many, fast-change sets. One does wonder where they all fit backstage.
Shrek, the Musical is hardly a cutting-edge show like Slow Burn once gravitated to in its infancy 10 years ago. But it should satisfy a lot of family theatergoers and help cement the company’s reputation as one of the area’s best producers of musical theater.
SHREK, THE MUSICAL, Broward Center Amaturo Theatre, 201 S.W. Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Through Sun., Nov. 10. $49-$62. 954-462-0222 or visit www.slowburntheatre.org/.