Shrek: Larger than life

Leah C. Salterio (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Dragons are not scary creatures, the swamp is a dream-like “castle” and the knight in shining armor is not a handsome prince, but a lovable, charming, kind-hearted and romantic ogre who lives happily ever after with his princess. 

That, in a gist, is the story of Shrek the Musical, which recently returned onstage for a limited run at the Meralco Theater. Largely based on William Steig’s 1990 book and the 2001 Oscar-winning animated film, the musical extensively presented the life of Shrek, from his childhood to the time he eventually marries Princess Fiona.

With book and lyrics by David Lindsay Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, Shrek the Musical brings back the behemoth green ogre, this time larger than life. He is not just seen on the big screen or as a mere theme park attraction (where he poses for souvenir shots at Universal Studios). Onstage, Shrek sings and dances live for nearly three hours, much to the amusement of his audience.

Rycharde Everley steps into the “big” shoes of Shrek, the title role in the musical. He befriends a wisecracking Donkey, brilliantly played by singer Nyoy Volante. The two make up an unlikely tandem, yet they get along pretty well as they set out to rescue Princess Fiona from the dragon-guarded tower.

While Shrek is the lead character, the irrepressible Donkey is a real scene-stealer without meaning to. Surprisingly, Nyoy’s comic timing was faultless. He undoubtedly made a name for himself as a singer, but he was hilarious as he also brought out the laughs onstage. Apparently, his character was clearly patterned after Eddie Murphy, who played Donkey in four Shrek movies.

Nyoy really makes time to dabble in theater as he has been in the cast of other noted musicals. To date, he has been seen in Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Rent, Legally Blonde and The Addams Family, among others.

Nyoy as Donkey in Shrek reminded me of Dory in Finding Nemo. Although not the main character, Dory brings the laughs with her short-term memory loss. She is best remembered as the friend who helps the over-protective father Marlin find his son Nemo.

Shrek’s love interest was played by Sheila Valderrama-Martinez, she with her sweet, mellifluous yet powerful voice. Another female character was the Dragon (Carla Guevara Laforteza), who ruled the stage every time she comes out. The two lady performers dominated every scene they were in.

The ensemble of fairytale characters — Pinocchio, Gingerbread Man, Three Blind Mice, Baby Bear from Three Little Bears, Peter Pan, Three Little Pigs — was a real treat both to the young and not-so-young crowd.

Lord Farquaad (Jett Pangan was not present when we watched the musical) had a physically-demanding role. He obviously had to be dwarfed on his knees the whole time, as he sang, danced and delivered his lines.

The production notably made references to a number of musicals, films and other literary characters. When Shrek and Donkey performed Travel Song, lines from Circle of Life in The Lion King were used. Lord Farquaad also made a memorable reference to Defying Gravity from the Broadway musical Wicked, when he rendered the final lines in What’s Up, Duloc?

The popular song I’m A Believer was not in the original stage production that premiered in Seattle in 2008. The song was in the 2001 film and was added as an encore to the musical in 2009, when Shrek debuted on Broadway. To date, I’m A Believer has been used as a promotional song everywhere Shrek the Musical was staged, including West End and Manila.

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