Shrek finds a home on stage
Mirava M. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - September 29, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The show must go on — and never has a mantra so devotedly held true, since Shrek The Musical, directed by Bobby Garcia, pulled out all the stops to fulfill this theater rule.

Despite the unfortunate coincidence of having its opening fall on the same weekend as tropical storm Mario last week, onward did Atlantis Productions push, to the enthusiasm of the many who had amassed at the Meralco Theater. And although a Broadway adaptation is fairly off-kilter way for the silver screen’s famous ogre to return, and besides the three or three hundred sequels, all these simply affirm the phenomenon that is Shrek.

It did, after all, also achieve the following: a) the 2001 hit put Dreamworks on the map; b) it started a trend of animated movies that utilized primarily movie stars, and incorporated rapid, up-to-date pop culture references that appealed to adults while still being able to appeal to children; and c) it became the anti-Disney animation.

As for bringing that behemoth to the stage, there is only one reason, and that reason is: Well, why the hell not? Off the top of my head, it’s the first Broadway adaptation of a non-musical animated movie I can think of, and Shrek plus songs are already a tried and true combo (see: song numbers of almost every Dreamworks movie).

However, the premise alone presents a new challenge for Shrek. Composer Jeanine Tesori and writer David Lindsay-Abaireeager were tasked with having to impress both Broadway enthusiasts and fans of the movie. The result is an enthusiastic truce between fans of both mediums: Turns out everything is right where it belongs, from the zany costumes to lavish sets (inspired by and very similar to the movie visuals).

The characters in Shrek have always looked and acted so kooky that they’re completely at home on stage, in all their cartoon-y glory. A mischievous-talking donkey is nothing new. With dragons popping up, and fairy tale characters rioting on stage, it all makes sense. Shrek on stage is almost a farcical version of Wicked, and it utilizes that comparison to its utmost advantage.

Still, pop culture jokes reign supreme, and it’s only a little bit jarring that some jokes are ripped, line by line, straight from the movie, which is still far too fresh in my mind for me to appreciate their delivery in raw form. Interspersed among them are theater jokes, and those are the ones that really get the older half of the audience guffawing.

If you’ve seen any musical in the past five years, you’re pretty much set. There are meta gags, sneakily-placed adult jokes, and of course, the younger spectators definitely have their share of the fun, too. Potshots at Dreamworks’ friendly rival, Disney, are cleverly placed.

And turns out it is possible to bring Shrek to life without having to pluck voices straight out of Hollywood. Instead of Mike Myers, Rycharde Everley plays Shrek with a bit more Scot, belting out wholehearted ballads that balance nicely with Shrek’s blunt and crude humor.

Nyoy Volante is a brilliant addition as Donkey, and his acting has improved majorly since In The Heights. The two lead performances don’t come across as Mike Myers/Eddie Murphy impressions, either — they are separate from their original counterparts, mostly thanks to the introspective (but still amusing) duets.

Then there’s Fiona, played by Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, in what is the most charming change from the films. What I remember is that Fiona’s spunkiness and nerve was simply an informed trait in the movies, where she suffered one rescue after another. Here, her own brand of courage is palpable and hilarious, and she holds her own against the rest with potent vocal chops and a lot of wit.

There’s also Dragon, roaring to life now with a voice of her own thanks to Carla Guevara-Laforteza, and Nel Gomez as Pinocchio. Also, minor character-slash-villain Lord Farquaad, who was barely a presence in the movie, becomes a scene-stealer and crowd favorite as Jett Pangan takes method acting to a whole new plane of existence.

When the show ends, you half-expect that typical Dreamworks ending (as it occurs in 90 percent of its movies), where anthropomorphic characters groove cutely to an Eighties hit. But here, I realize that that’s not too out of place. Of course: In theater, that’s just called a “curtain call” — cementing Shrek The Musical as a very elaborate love letter to Broadway, rather than a simple cut-and-paste of source material onto the stage. In fact, there are very few references to the film series’ own “lore,” indicating that the production can have a happy-ever-after as a stand-alone to those who haven’t seen, or were too young to see, the original movie.

Family fun, indeed.

* * *

Shrek The Musical will be performed at the Meralco Theater at 2 p.m. on Saturdays (Oct. 4, 11), 3 p.m. on Sundays (Oct. 5, 12) and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (Oct. 3, 4, 10 and 11). The last showing is on Oct. 12. For tickets, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999.

ATLANTIS PRODUCTIONS BOBBY GARCIA CARLA GUEVARA-LAFORTEZA COMPOSER JEANINE TESORI DREAMWORKS MERALCO THEATER MOVIE SHREK SHREK THE MUSICAL
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