“Once upon a time, there was a Grumpy Ogre and a Feisty Princess…” so begins the intrepid tale of an unlikely hero named “Shrek” who finds himself on a life-changing journey to rescue an imprisoned princess named “Fiona”, who is being kept in an imposingly steep turret guarded by a fire-breathing dragon (complete with wings, glowing eyes and a voice like Jennifer Hudson’s!)
Throw in a wisecracking Donkey sidekick and a short-tempered (and equally short statured) bad guy, along with a plethora of familiar fairytale characters and you have the makings of a first-class musical! A tune-filled adaptation of the DreamWorks’ 2001 Oscar-winning animated box-office Bonanza, in 2008 “Shrek, The Musical” was improved and expanded for the Broadway stage featuring all new songs by Jeanine Tesori and a sidesplitting book by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote all the Lyrics.) Six years ago, “3-D Theatricals”, Southern California’s foremost musical theater company produced the show in Fullerton CA. to meritorious acclaim; now, they’ve brought it back for an even “bigger, brighter, better” and more developed ‘re-envisioned’ production in their new home at “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” in Cerritos, California. David F.M. Vaughn returns as the Director and Choreographer for this new ‘re-staging’ (with Leslie Stevens as Associate Director/Choreographer) and Musical Direction by Julie Lamoureux, who similarly serves as conductor for the stunning 12 piece orchestra. If you didn’t catch it the first time—this present ‘up-grade” positively rates in the ‘not to be missed’ category!
Reacquainting us with all the beloved characters from the ground-breaking motion-picture, each once again comes leaping to life on stage as this new production handily reminds us there’s waaaay more to the valiant Ogre’s story than what you’d expect to occur between the standard “Once Upon A Time” and “They Lived Happily Ever After”! Based on Willian Steig’s popular tome of the same name, (which itself is a spoof of all those wonderful old fairy-tales, nursery rhymes and children’s literary classics we all grew-up loving,) Lindsay-Abaire’s libretto is at turns funny, thrilling, and heart-felt—with a myriad of smart, “knowing”, laughs and witty sight-gags, while also interjecting some spot-on little nods to such other Broadway biggies as “Wicked”, “Funny Girl”, “Gypsy”, Once Upon A Mattress” and “The Lion King”. Having been a member of “Shrek’s” premiere Broadway cast as well as performing in the first national tour (where he played “Lord Farquaad”,) it’s safe to say Director Vaughn truly knows this show and possesses plenty of earnest affection for the material. Having also filled the same position in “3-D’s” previous version back in 2013, here his direction is fast paced and colorful—kind of like a frisky and forward-flowing whirl on a merry-go-round–with loads of big laughs, super-charged songs and light-hearted dance segments around every corner. You couldn’t find a fitter or finer show with which to introduce younger audiences to the joys of a top-flight theatre-going experience.
Interestingly, for a show of this size there aren’t all that many ‘big’ production numbers–but when they do occur, they are categorically of the “Splashy” and “Spectacular” kind. After the more ‘story-driven’ Prologue, the first ‘clear-cut’ group undertaking is “The Story Of My Life”, once all the fairy-tale characters have been unceremoniously ‘dumped’ (literally) at “Shrek’s’ front-door in the thick of his marshy home. Their crime? Being too “different”, “strange”, “unique”, “eccentric”, “not enough like everybody else”—choose your own adjective, but it has them all lamenting: “I always dreamed I’d get a happy ending, and this right here, is NOT how it goes! I always dreamed I’d get an ‘ever after’; if this is it–it blows!” Subsequently, when “Shrek” has gone off to complain about this sudden intrusion by story-book inhabitants, he’s met with the brashest and glitziest extravaganza this side of the “MGM Grand” called “What’s Up Duloc”. This serves as a primo introduction to our celebrated “Villain Of The Hour”, “Lord Farquaad”—which even winds up in a flashy “Kickline” with the tiny Tyrant at its epicenter. While Act Two primarily advances through a series of smaller, more intimate refrains or character solos, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” revisits the characters of the beginning—now disgruntled enough to take action against their indignant ‘plight’. As they cavort, shrewd eyes may even perceive the vivaciously hued back scrim becoming bathed in a plethora of rainbow colors which softly intermingle side by side into one another. The effect, while subtle is nonetheless charmingly happy and gay! (It’s an outright showstopper that’s as festive as they come!) Shortly after, when they storm “Farquaad’s” palace on the day of his nuptials, (with ‘protest signs’ that proclaim “Make Wishes Not War” or that “Elves Are People Too!”,) they break into the bubbly and boisterous “This Is Our Story”, demonstrating each is finally is able to exult: “We are puppets, we are rabbits, we are hobbits (with bad habits) ; we’re a screwy (but delighted) crazy stew! We are different—but united; you are us and we are you—This is OUR story!” The finale, set to the electrifying strains of the “Monkees” teeny-bopper chart-topper, “I’m A Believer”, is definitely the “Happiest “Ever After” ever (–or until August 25th , at any rate!) Insert some suitably spirited choreography into the mix and you have a rollicking curtain call that’s the kind, tailor-made for an exuberant–and vigorous Standing Ovation!
3-D Theatricals Co-founder and Artistic Director T.J. Dawson reprises his role as the endearingly irascible Ogre of the title. Along with his enviable ‘chameleonlike’ facility to totally ‘become’ the character he’s portraying, Dawson’s substantial talents enable him to adroitly ensure that every gag and pun hit their mark like an hilarious ‘bullseye’. (This guarantees that our not-so-monstrous protagonist won’t be the only one ‘roaring’—audiences will be too—with laughter!) Add to this, the way he can seamlessly blend lyrical or textual ‘sensitivity’ in with a genuine, robust vocal power, which he verifies right off with his contribution to the prologue, when the now-grown “Shrek” explains his fondness for the solitary swill-filled life, liking it just the way it is: “I prefer a life like this–it’s not that complicated,” he sighs; “Sure, I’m fated to be lonely–and I’m destined to be hated. (If you read the books, they say it’s why I was created!) But I don’t care, ’cause being liked is grossly overrated.” Later in the Act, he scores with his parts in “This Is How A Dream Comes True” and the climactic “Who I’d Be”, as “Shrek” pensively deliberates on how his life ‘could’ve’ been different, if not for the ‘facts’: “An Ogre always hides; an ogre’s fate is known; an ogre always stays in the dark—and all alone.” In Act Two, he has several sung ‘soliloquies’, but none better than “When Words Fail”, as this admitted “Diamond in the rough” contemplates his emergent feeling for the Princess—even daring to consider confiding them to her! Between all of these, many among 3-D Theatrical’s regular audience members are likely to be clamoring to see Mr. Dawson taking a more act-ive role in the company’s future endeavors—on-stage!
Jeanette Dawson also adds still another incredible performance to her already momentous list of triumphs as the perpetually grinning “Princess Fiona”. Although she essentially doesn’t appear until halfway into Act One, her presence, as always, is straight-up worth waiting for—and her part grows even richer and deeper layered when we learn that “Fiona” is one “Royal Highness” with a secret (–which, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the big-screen mega-hit already knows, all has to do with our “Fiona” being under an enchantment, thus the reason why her parents locked her up in that infernal tower in the first place!) “By day one way, by night another—this shall be the norm,” we’re told of the spell that was placed on her as a child; “until you find true love’s first kiss and then take love’s true form.” Jeanette makes her preliminary appearance at the height of “Fiona’s” expositional oratio, “I Know It’s Today”. Sung with two uber-talented actresses who represent her ‘younger’ selves, together they make this a sincerely delightful outing–particularly once they all join together for the closing phrases, providing some fantastic harmony in the process. Toward the close of the act she furnishes us with even loftier examples of her sublime song-interpreting capability with her contributions to the ebullient-but-frenetic “This Is How A Dream Comes True”, then immediately following with the more reflective, “Who I’d Be”.
Once the concluding phrases of the Entr’acte have faded, Ms. Dawson victoriously launches and enlivens Act Two with the effervescent “Morning Person (Good Morning Day)”: “Last night I as a monster” she beams; “but now I’m OK!” Sung opposite a puppet ‘bird’ and an inflatable ‘Deer’ ( as the Princess daydreams about meeting her ‘brawny’ intended, “Lord Farquaad”,) the number also incorporates a jaunty ‘rat-a-tap’ interlude (—emphasis on the rat!) once she encounters the “Pied Piper” and a band of tap-shoe clad rodents whom she teaches a thing or two about how to really get these household pests to ‘toe’ the line! Afterward, she asks her ‘rescuers’ about the man who sent them for her: “Men of Farquaad’s stature are short supply” Shrek tells “Fiona” as a precursor to “I Think I Got You Beat” wherein the two vie for the ‘prize’ of who had the worst childhood. It’s a terrific duet in the midst of which they start to discover (God Forbid) that they may be starting to actually like one another, culminating in an off-the-hook battle of dueling bodily gasses. In any case, it stands as a consummate comic high (or low, depending upon how you feel about such things,) light. Incidental coarseness aside, “Fiona” soon feels there’s just something about “Shrek” she can’t (or won’t) acknowledge: “My fairy-tale has somehow gone awry” she next carols as part of her more introspective reprise of “Morning Person”: “Looks can be deceiving—feelings never are!”
Rounding out this trio of ‘adventurers’ is Cornelius Jones Jr. as “Shrek’s” jive-talking, uber-hip, four-hoofed amigo, “Donkey”. This role brings with it implicit challenges, seeing that it’s so connected in many people’s minds with the unforgettable characterization by Eddie Murphy in the cinematic blockbuster and its sequels; even so, Jones dexterously more than prevails over any such contrasts, proving pretty incredible in his own right! He’s also heir to the lion’s share of the scripts’ most amusing lines. (After “Shrek” calls him a “GPS with fur”, he counters by informing the Ogre that he once served six years in “Farquaad’s” dungeons for “impersonating a Pinata”!) Jones too, has a magnificent voice which makes his ‘emotive’ numbers like “Don’t Let Me Go” and his part in “Who I’d Be” instant favorites; yet it’s his second act ode to unlikely romance called, “Make A Move” that’s a bit of melodic magic by way of Motown, during which he channels his ‘Inner Ray Charles” with outstanding success. The tribute is even brilliantly (or bizarrely—again depending on your point of view) ‘enhanced’ when he’s backed by none-other-than the “Three Blind Mice” themselves! (That Jones is thoroughly amazing throughout is a given—but the robust vocal potency he lets loose with here is all the more awe-inspiring!)
As the diminutive “Lord Farquaad”, Daniel Dawson rises to new heights himself. Already a ‘Clown Prince’ of the delayed reaction or off-handed glance, he achieves some of his heartiest laughs this way. Take, for example, his bombastic reactions to Shrek’s last-minute ‘wedding’ declaration (couched in a stirring encore of “Big, Bright Beautiful World”.) He even garners huge chuckles just by walking across the stage! His introductory descant, framed within the splashy, “Vegas” styled “What’s Up Duloc” (a paean to his home fiefdom,) is one of the major tour-de-force moments of the first act (Think of him as kind of like “Tony Bennet” were he a munchkin!) It is through this that we quickly become aware of this undersized Aristocrat’s utter intolerance of anyone even a little different: “If you had a quirk, you didn’t pass inspection,” he gloats; “We all have our standards—but I will have Perfection!” This is also where we learn that although “Farquaad” maintains exclusive rights to all the lands around “Duloc” (including “Shrek’s” swamp) his one…uh…shortcoming, is that while he may be a ‘less than Noble” member of the Nobility, before this “perfect city like a postcard” can be called a proper “Kingdom”, ‘His Lordship’ must first become a “King”. To do this he needs to marry at least a “Princess”, and that’s where “Fiona” comes in; hence, he strikes a bargain with our hapless green hero: If “Shrek” can fetch the Princess from her multi-storied fortification, “Farquaad” will sign over the deed to his home (that there’s a giant fire-breathing reptile to contend with is entirely immaterial!) After intermission, with “The Ballad Of Farquaad” we comparably discern that he is the unlikely spawn of a decidedly ‘grumpy’ dwarf and an infamous insomniac Princess who was so sensitive she could feel the tiniest pea under twenty downy mattresses! This is where the younger Dawson sibling doesn’t merely shine–he glows: “Daddy was a miner, so he wasn’t much around. Foraging for diamonds, a life spent underground; Daddy didn’t talk much–he barely said ‘Hello’. He’d simply mutter, ‘Heigh- Ho’, and off to work he’d go…” Paint this one an indisputable Act Two crowd-pleaser!
Several younger members of the cast also deserve exceptional credit–starting with T.J. and Jeanette’s son, Jude Dawson who earns a wealth of comedic credibility—first as the stoic “Little Shrek” at the start of the prologue, “Big, Bright Beautiful World (But Not For You)”, as he’s tossed out into the unwary (and unfriendly) world by his Mama and Papa Ogres at the tender age of seven. Then, toward the show’s completion, he reappears as “Lord Farquaad’s” bearded–and bad-humored father. (In the course of the curtain call, Jude also does a mean job on the drums too!) Miss Sloane Adams is also nothing short of incredible in her brief turn as the ‘Little’ Fiona—initially seen as her parents lead her off to the ‘fiery keep’ to be guarded by a dragon and obligated to wait (an interminably long time) for her ‘champion’ to eventually rescue her. Adams is firmly in possession of a dynamic voice that belies her tender years, which she puts into the breathtaking service of “I Know It’s Today”, as “Fiona” counts off the seemingly never ending days of loneliness and tedium while describing the burning hope she constantly keeps alive for her long anticipated liberation. Also making her solid mark in this, their shared chanson, is Noelle Lidyoff as the “Teenaged Fiona” (along with appearing as “Little Bo Peep”.) Highly deserving plaudits also go out to Colden Lamb, Kenney Gary and Landen Starkman as “The Three Little Pigs” (– “Straw Pig”, “Sticks Pig’ and “Bricks Pig” respectively.) It is they who appear in a brief filmed segment just prior to the overture advising spectators to kindly silence all cell-phones and take note of any exit signs in case of emergency (—so indication of the out-and-out cleverness this production is filled to the brim with is there right from the get-go!) Meanwhile, Adam Mantell also snags his share of copious applause and even bigger guffaws as the squeaky voiced, fast-quipping Puppet who dreams of becoming a ‘real boy’, “Pinocchio”. It is he who leads the rest of the storybook creatures in the buoyant, “Story Of My Life”, as well as playing a fairly significant part in “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” and “This Is Our Story”. Later however, once he comes to terms with having to live with a terminally lengthening nose, he at last proclaims with an abundance of ‘puppet’ pride: “I’m wood, I’m good—get used to it!” Special applause should also go out to Amber J. Snead who puts her established–and tremendous–vocal talents into both Shrek’s “Mother Ogre” and “The Dragon”, dazzling us in this latter role with the sultry “Forever” (Just wait until she starts to get giddy from “Donkey’s” reluctant flirtations!) Then, for the final curtain she herself comes out and takes her bows clad in a gown suggestive of this flying behemoth she voices so magnificently! Not to be overlooked either is Dayna Sauble who equally stands out—both as the “Sugar Plum Fairy” (renowned from that holiday Ballet by Tchaikovsky,) and then as the voice of “Gingy”—the Gingerbread Man with a spicy attitude.
From a technical standpoint, this time around the show is also much more amazing on just about every level. Utilizing Broadway’s original Tony Award-winning costume designs by Tim Hatley, the absolutely staggering set designs are by Tom Buderwitz. Implementing lots of vibrant flats and backdrops, these persuasively transport us to us a murky swamp, a rickety old turret that spirals out of a perilous river of lava, and a castle that’s not unlike the one sitting in the middle of a certain amusement park nearby. Working in close conjunction with one another are Jean-Yves Tessier’s compelling lighting design and Jonathan Infante’s sophisticated, “did you see that?” projections. Frequently so subtle that you may find yourself only vaguely aware whenever they appear, once cognizant of them though, you’re bound to appreciate just how inventive they are. What’s even better is how they make possible such effects as the flames that spout and flicker from animated torches in “Farquaad’s” main hall, to a glittery shower of sparks suggesting “Fiona’s” nocturnal ‘metamorphosis’, or a sumptuous summer evening bursting with stars. Special credit also has to go out to the masterful and hard-working team of ‘puppeteers” who help realize everything from that not-so ominous “Dragon” to everyone’s best-loved belligerent baked-good, “Gingy” (“Bite Me!” this over-sized ginger-snap ‘snaps’ at “Farquaad” who has threatened to eat all the gumdrop ‘buttons’ off of his vest!) There’s also a nifty cameo by “Puss-In-Boots” (from the movie,) which is swiftly followed by an encounter with that fleet-footed “Dish” and “Spoon” taking a break from their Hey-Diddle-Diddlin’ Ditty so oft-intoned around the nursery or preschool. Likewise, it would be too large an injustice NOT to devote at minimum a sentence or two to the eye-popping make-up design by Denice Paxton. Relying heavily on some lavish and astounding prosthetics (including numerous for our titular Leviathan,) it also wouldn’t be too far of an exaggeration to assert that the entire show is practically fueled by these (–it sure wouldn’t be nearly as mesmerizing without them!)
Forget about ‘dreams’—this is how a great (and outrageously hilarious) musical ‘comes true’! After “Previewing” on Friday, August 9th, “Shrek, The Musical” officially opened on Saturday, August 10th, where it’s set to play through Sunday, August 25th, 2019 at “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts”, located at: 12700 Center Court Drive, in Cerritos California. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. Please note, there will be an added performance on Thursday, August 22nd at 7:30 PM. Tickets may be obtained on-line by logging onto: www.Cerritoscenter.com OR www.3dtheatricals.org ; Or via phone by calling (562) 916-8500 Tuesdays through Fridays between the hours of 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM; 12:00–4:00 PM on Saturdays. At the theatre, the Box-Office opens two hours prior to weekday and Saturday performances; one hour prior to Sunday performances. (Group and Student discounts are also available for this engagement.)
Production Stills By “Caught in the Moment Photography” (https:/www.caughtinthemoment.com) Courtesy Of Jim Byk & Shane Marshall Brown (www.thepressroomnyc.com ) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Jim Byk, Shane Marshall Brown, T.J. Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Gigi Fusco-Meese, David F.M. Vaughn, Leslie Stevens, Julie Lamoureux, Jarod Millsap –And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2019 Production Of “Shrek, The Musical” For Making This Story Possible.