- Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The story of Shrek was taken from a children’s book by William Steig and became a household name after DreamWorks’ released the 2001 computer-animated version, which won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. A fairy tale parody, the movie is still loved today for its irreverent humor, constant pop culture references, and its backwards happy ending. After the movie’s success, DreamWorks recruited playwright and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and director Jason Moore to begin working on Shrek The Musical, with composer Jeanine Tesori joining the project in 2004. In December of 2008, after a trial run in Seattle and 37 previews, Shrek The Musical officially opened on Broadway to positive reviews, receiving eight Tony nominations, and two wins. It has been a favorite of community and school theatre companies ever since. It was my pleasure to see a fantastic production of it this past weekend in the small town of Granbury, Texas.
Granbury Theatre Company’s Shrek The Musical is an outstanding conglomeration of talent, creativity and passion. Kyle Hoffman seems to be the best kind of director—one who attracts talent then gives them the freedom to create within a set framework. For this show, he pulled together an impressive number of talented designers. G. Aaron Siler’s excellent prosthetic design turned Shrek and Fiona into ogres without inhibiting their facial expressions. And Drenda Lewis’s costumes were dazzling. Not the thrown-together thrift store pieces that actors must so often fish for themselves, but well-tailored and colorful, they created a cohesive and eye-popping visual ensemble. Kerri Pavelick’s scenic design was equally stunning. Her bright, happy sets were crafted from a variety of materials and included full-stage painted backgrounds and set pieces, some of which were lowered from above the stage, and smaller pieces brought on stage from the wings during brief scene changes. She used sheer fabrics to make use of the full depth of stage available and used creative lighting/projections expertly designed by Cameron Barrus to create various split stage effects. Kudos, too, to Kalani Morrissette for fantastic technical direction.
The backstage crew, under Whitney Shearon’s stage management, worked magic on the Granbury Opera House stage. There was seldom a moment during the production where I had time to realize the scene was changing, yet there was always some new visual element or new background to enjoy. The stage went completely dark between scenes, while props, mics, costumes/makeup/prosthetic changes, set changes, sound cues, and light cues were executed flawlessly (apart from one minor insignificant prop-fail involving a bluebird, which many in the audience may not have even noticed). Of course, Shrek’s and Fiona’s backstage narration of events also contributed to the sense of continuity between scenes.
Rather than employing an orchestra, Granbury Theatre Company used track accompaniment and recorded sound effects. This removed a lot of variables that can make it difficult to create a good sound mix. Where there were vocal harmonies, all parts were balanced, and the accompaniment was always loud enough but never overpowering. There must have been onstage monitors there because the performers didn’t miss a note or a beat, but I didn’t see or hear them. Great job to Sound Designer Joshua Carpenter for that, as well as to Greg Doss and Domanick Anton Hubbard, the Music Director and Choreographer. They highlighted each performer’s vocal and physical strengths, making the ensemble look and sound like a unit. While certain singers and dancers stood out above the rest for their exceptional talent, none of the cast stood out in a negative way.
This show has four lead characters: the ogre, his sidekick, the damsel in distress and the villain. The three protagonists were wonderful together, each bringing out the best in each other. In the title role of Shrek, Brian Lawson commands the stage. Surrounded by characters who are completely over-the- top, it is all too easy for this character to lose significance in his own story. But, even though Shrek’s solos are less entertaining than those of the other leads, Lawson’s solid, sincere performance gives the story its heart. Likewise, Jillian Grace Harrison gave a strong performance as Princess Fiona, the beautiful but hilariously unconventional damsel in distress who has been waiting 23 years for Prince Charming and finds herself rescued by an ogre instead. Harrison channeled her inner Carol Burnett as a comedienne, but she also showed depth in her more intimate scenes. The role of Donkey was played by Domanick Anton Hubbard. Just like his cartoon counterpart, Hubbard was lovable, comical and expressive, with an upbeat optimism and adorable smile not even an ogre could reject. He kept the audience laughing in every scene, and cheering whenever he let loose with his dance moves. But most importantly, this role is the most vocally demanding male role in the show, and he nailed it.
Cody Thomas played Lord Farquaad, the ridiculously short villain of the story who has given Shrek the task of rescuing Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower. The director allowed Thomas to take the role and run with it a bit, because he was obviously having fun with this character, making audience-centered inside jokes about current events (including unicorn frappuccinos, Donald Trump’s wall and the local train crossing), in addition to the hilarious lines and songs already in the script. His grotesque makeup job was part Elizabethan style and part what you’d find if you google “eyebrows gone wrong,” and his voice was a cross between a spoiled toddler and a drag queen. Just looking at him, you had to laugh (and cringe) and laugh. He was the one character who was free to engage with the audience as much as he wanted, and he did so…stroking his hair, grinning, waving, and making comments to and questioning audience members throughout most of his scenes.
The rest of the cast performed mostly in ensemble, but several actors had featured solos and duets. Most notably was Emily Warwick as Dragon. She had the best belting voice in the cast, and did an awesome job singing her solo/duet with Donkey, “Forever.” Warwick’s outstanding talent was also put to good use in the crowd-pleasing number, “Make a Move,” as one of the Three Blind Mice alongside Caitlan Leblo and Nicole Carrano. The strongest ensemble pieces were “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag,” in which Gary Williams was featured as Pinocchio and Alyson Kessinger as Gingy (the Gingerbread Man). The cast of fairytale creatures was so good together that I wished “What’s Up, Duloc” and “The Ballad of Farquaad” had been bigger ensemble numbers, as well. The scenes in Duloc, in general, would have been stronger if more of the fairytale creatures had doubled as Dulocians and guards. Other standout performances of the night include Hannah Baker and Liz Heil with Jillian Grace Harrison in “I Know It’s Today.” I also loved The Three Little (German) Pigs, Peter Pan, The White Rabbit, The Ugly Duckling, The Pied Piper and the Rat Tappers. GTC’s production ended with a bang as the entire cast (and much of the audience) sang and danced to “I’m a Believer.”
With an amazing crew of volunteers almost equal in number to actors in the cast, Granbury Theatre Company offers a professional quality show at an affordable price. To anybody living in the Dallas area, or far from Granbury, I’d recommend an early arrival and dinner on the square before the show. I made the mistake of driving south to Granbury through Dallas during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. It took me an extra hour to get there and find a parking spot, and I barely made it before the curtain rose. When I left the theatre, I was remorseful that all the restaurants and shops on the square were closed or closing. This was my first trip to Granbury, but it certainly will not be the last. With the level of talent at Granbury Theatre Company and its nearby neighbor The Plaza Theatre in Cleburne, my next free weekend will include two shows, a hotel booking and a good bit of shopping and dining in the delightful Granbury town square. Nevertheless, my 12-year- old daughter and I agreed that GTC’s production of Shrek The Musical was worth the drive and would do it again, even though we didn’t get home until after midnight.
SHREK THE MUSICAL
Granbury Theatre Company (Granbury)
133 East Pearl Street, Granbury, TX
Runs Through April 30, 2017
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm
Tickets can be purchased at granburytheatrecompany.org