Modern musical proves monstrously enjoyable
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/08/2016 (2308 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Looking around under the dome of Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park, one couldn’t help but notice the unusually high number of children attending the opening-night performance of Shrek the Musical on Thursday night, a considerable change-up from the usual domination of grey heads in attendance at theatre events in general and Rainbow in particular.
Not a surprise. Adapted from the 2001 animated film Shrek by David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music), this is a musical that hits the kids where they live.
But factoring all the grandparents in attendance, it is interesting to consider what a Rainbow audience of the 1960s and ‘70s would have made of a musical featuring a farting contest between the hero and heroine. For people harbouring tender recollections of the song Anything You Can Do from past Rainbow productions of Annie Get Your Gun (1965, 1973), consider yourself on notice: This ain’t Irving Berlin.
Shrek (Carson Nattrass outfitted with green makeup and vaguely obscene latex facial appendages) is an ogre, booted out the door by his parents at age seven to make his own way in the world. He finds comfort living alone in a stinky swamp until he discovers his home is under siege by refugee fairy-tale creatures booted out of the kingdom of Duloc owing to their freakishness. (This is right from the movie, a well-placed shot at the pristine Disney empire courtesy of Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, an embittered former Disney exec taking hilarious revenge.)
To be rid of these interlopers, Shrek is obliged to go to the giant castle of Duloc’s resident megalomaniac, Lord Farquaad (Peter Huck), to negotiate a deal. The cowardly Farquaad, wanting to become a king, agrees to return his home to him if Shrek will rescue the captive Princess Fiona (Heather McGuigan) from a dragon and bring her back to Duloc to marry Farquaad. (The lord gloats Shrek is up for the job because he’s “big, hulking and wonderfully expendable.”)
On his mission, Shrek befriends the cheeky Donkey (Jeigh Madjus), who proves himself romantically distracting to the Dragon (Nicky Lawrence) while Shrek tries to remove Fiona from her tower prison. On the journey back to Duloc, the beautiful Fiona is distressed to realize she has more in common with the ogre — such as a willingness to compete in a farting contest — than she has with the diminutive tyrant who would be king.
There is much for the kids to love here. The musical duly delivers the rude naughtiness, even as it hews close to the movie (as opposed to the original picture book by New Yorker cartoonist William Steig).
But there is a constant undercurrent of sophistication too, especially in Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics. (”When you’re grotesque, life is Kafkaesque.”) The songs can be hilarious, such as the opening number Big Bright Beautiful World, but they can also be disarmingly beautiful compositions, particularly the imprisoned Fiona’s plaintive I Know It’s Today, fashioned into a trio for McGuigan’s adult Fiona and two of her younger iterations (Madison Lacombe and Danika Burdeniuk).
Director Ray Hogg fills the stage with dance, colourful costume and spectacle, and cannily casts supporting roles. For example, Farquaad is the latest in a rogue’s gallery for Huck, who played the similiarly arrogant character Gaston in Rainbow’s Beauty and the Beast: Huck is something of a master of the musical jerk. Becky Frohlinger, a dancing dynamo, hilariously gives helium voice to “Gingy,” the plucky gingerbread man who literally breaks under torture.
But Hogg knows the play rests on the tripod of its three central performances. Madjus is a funny and fabulous Donkey, translating Eddie Murphy’s sass to the stage role. McGuigan is clearly having a good time as Fiona, so adept at getting the audience into her manic groove.
But, really, Nattrass in the title role is one for the books. A 10-year veteran of Rainbow, he’s never had a role like Shrek, and he carries it off with amazing elegance, considering, you know… the farting. Nattrass sings his heart out when required, and slyly delivers off-colour lines and ad libs with masterful timing. Mostly, he invests a character — whose name translates as “fear” — with a fearless heart.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.