Monday, December 8, 2008


Gratuitous Violins rating: **1/2 out of ****

I can find something to like in almost every show. I don't ask for much - I'm fairly lenient in my ratings. All I want is be entertained. (And I don't mean that solely in a light, fluffy sense.)

Make me laugh, make me cry or make my jaw drop in amazement. Give me performances I remember weeks later, situations that resonate or make me think. Catchy songs, energetic choreography or an eye-catching set will help, too.

But you have to give me something to work with. And the new musical Shrek, while it had its moments, unfortunately didn't give me nearly enough. I didn't feel as excited or absorbed by the plot or the main characters as I should have been. At 2 hours and 40 minutes including an intermission, the show dragged. Frankly, there were times when I was simply bored.

Keep in mind that I saw Shrek, which opens Sunday, very early in its previews at the Broadway Theatre. I want to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe director Jason Moore has speeded things up a bit.

And I have to admit that I was never a big fan of the 2001 animated movie Shrek, based on the classic children's book by William Steig. The story revolves around a big green ogre named Shrek who has to find Princess Fiona and bring her back to the scheming Lord Farquaad in order to rid his swamp of a horde of pesky fairytale characters.

For me, the best part of the movie was Eddie Murphy as the voice of the donkey who accompanies Shrek on his journey. Daniel Breaker was cast in the role after the musical's Seattle tryout, replacing Chester Gregory II. I was a big fan of Breaker's from Passing Strange and he was the main reason I wanted to see Shrek.

Breaker is fun to watch as the sassy sidekick, even if he did seem to be channeling Eddie Murphy a bit. He's such a terrific presence - just in the way he moves, flaps the hooves of his donkey costume. Christopher Sieber, who spends a good part of the musical on his knees as the ruthless and vertically challenged Lord Farquaad, made me smile whenever he was on stage. John Tartaglia was sweet and cute as Pinocchio but it's not a huge role.

On the other hand, I wasn't blown away by Brian d'Arcy James and Sutton Foster as Shrek and Princess Fiona. They were okay, but neither one seemed all that interesting and I didn't end up caring all that much about their relationship. Somehow, Shrek didn't seem gruff enough and Fiona didn't seem spunky enough. There's a scene, which I guess is a memorable one from the movie, in which they have a farting and belching contest. Personally, I hated it. But everyone else laughed, so what do I know?

There were some things about Shrek that I liked. Tim Hatley's costumes and scenic design - the forest, Lord Farquaad's castle - looked like they could have leaped from the pages of a classic children's fairytale. There was some great animation and David Lindsay-Abaire's book contains some witty references to other Broadway shows.

I liked some of the songs by Jeanine Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire, including the opening number, "Big Bright Beautiful World," the storybook characters' anthem, "Freak Flag," and "Morning Person," the song-and-dance number Fiona has at the beginning of Act II. (I don't know why she was dancing with those rats but it did make me laugh.)

In the end, though, the whole thing just seemed bland and unengaging. Shrek wasn't magical enough to bring out my inner child and it wasn't clever enough to appeal to my grown-up emotions. Tesori was at the performance I attended, so maybe things have changed. Or maybe, sadly, this just wasn't for me.


Jeff said...

I generally agree with your review. I'm glad it wasn't just me and that we're on the same page!

Esther said...

Thanks, Jeff. It's great to be on the same page with you! I know some other bloggers have been a bit kinder, and I did see an early preview. It'll be interesting to see what the professional critics say on opening night.

Vance said...

Actually, you gave it better marks than I'm going to give it. I think I was even less impressed (though Breaker and Sieber were a hoot).

What WAS with those dancing rats? Weird.

Esther said...

Well, it was early in the previews so I do want to give it the benefit of the doubt. I don't know, maybe if I'd been a bigger fan of the movie I would have enjoyed it before.