He's big, green, hairy, smelly and sometimes scary. And yet, he is beloved by children and adults everywhere.
I'm talking, of course, about Shrek, the Scottish-brogued ogre made famous in the Dreamworks film voiced by Mike Myers, and brought to the stage this summer by the Lexington Children's Theatre in Shrek the Musical.
A little more than two hours' worth of ogre-size fun, Shrek is a fitting way to kick off LCT's 75th anniversary season: It requires designers and performers to flex all of their theatrical muscles.
Directors Jeremy and Aimee Kisling marshal a cast of almost 60 students and parents in a high-energy, side-splitting, color-drenched comedy. Despite the huge cast size, the musical retains a sense of intimacy and focus — particularly with the relationships among Shrek (Devan Pruitt), Fiona (Virginia Newsome) and Donkey (Daniel Baumgardner) — between the large musical numbers when a plethora of fairytale characters, like three blind mice, the blue fairy, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, the Gingerbread Man and dozens of others.
The show retains the plot of the film but substitutes original musical numbers for the film's star-studded soundtrack. With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, the production's score adds more depth to the story's narrative and, like the film, is full of grown-up references that children might not get but that kept the adults in Thursday's opening night cracking up.
Pruitt, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, nails the rough, gruff charm of Shrek without copying Myers' animated portrayal of the ogre. As love interest Fiona, Newsome captures the appropriate mix of princess perfect while letting her inner ogre bubble above the surface. The falling-in-love scenes where the pair engage in endearing but occasionally darkly comical flirting is particularly effective. Numbers like I Think I Got You Beat, which details each of their miserable childhoods, shows just how much in common they have, and lets Pruitt and Newsome play up their singing talents.
Baumgardner's Donkey, Shrek's BFF, is the lively and lovable sidekick, much like Eddie Murphy's portrayal in the film version. One hilarious deviation from the film is Donkey's accidental romance with the dragon who guards Fiona's tower. Kudos to designers for creating a deep, sparkling fuschia, multi-person dragon puppet, led by Sydney Jahnigen, who delivers a comically sultry performance in numbers like Forever. The dragon keeps a quartet of defeated knights — potential champions who tried to rescue Fiona but failed — on hand to sing backup, one of the musicals' signature quirks designed for the theater crowd, not unlike the cross-dressing Big Bad Wolf.
Joseph Wrightson, a recent graduate of the School of Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, was not short on talent or laughs in his portrayal of Lord Farquaad. He brings his own smarmy entitlement to the role, and it is particularly enjoyable to watch his comical demise in the final scenes.
Because the show is cast almost entirely with students and their parents, it includes some inevitable musical slip-ups. On more than one occasion, singers went flat or appeared to be over-reaching for their notes. On the whole, however, musical performances were consistent and added rather than subtracted from my enjoyment of the show.
I would be remiss not to mention Magda Guichard's fairytale colorful costume design. Dressing almost 60 actors to create a stunning visual tableau, the costumes, like Justine Burke's lighting design, were critical elements in bringing the mammoth musical to life.
'Shrek the Musical'
What: Lexington Children's Theatre's production of the Broadway musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori.
When: 7 p.m. July 19; 2 and 7 p.m. July 20; 2 and 6:30 p.m. July 21
Where: Lexington Children's Theatre, 418 W. Short St.
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 children. Available at the theater box office, (859) 254-4546, Ext. 247, or 1-800-928-4545 or Lctonstage.org.