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Tune Tuesday : "Shrek the Musical" gets off to a great start in Seattle

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Tune Tuesday : "Shrek the Musical" gets off to a great start in Seattle

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There are so many movie-based musicals turning up on Broadway these days that the theater community has actually invented a somewhat derogatory term to describe these high profile productions: movsicals.

And what with the rather tepid respection that "Young Frankenstein" and "The Little Mermaid" received this past season ... Well, it's easy to understand why there isn't all that much enthusiasm right now for the two new movsicals that are currently on deck: "9 to 5 : The Musical" (Which will actually have its world premiere tonight at LA's Ahmanson Theater ) and "Shrek the Musical" (Which has been trying out at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre since August 14th and will have its official out-of-town opening tomorrow night).

Which -- at least in the case of "Shrek the Musical" -- may be a mistake. Based on the extremely positive response that the stage version of this Academy Award-winning Dreamworks Animation production has been receiving from Seattle audiences, this big green ogre could really be a smash once he reaches the Great White Way.

Of course, that may be because "Shrek the Musical" 's creative team -- director Jason Moore, librettist David Lindsay-Abaire, composer Jeanine Tesori and designer Tim Hatley -- did a very smart thing. Which was ...

WARNING !! There be spoilers ahead !! If you don't want to know anything about this new Broadway-bound musical, now would be a really good time to exit the swamp ... er ... bail out of today's article.

Still there? Okay. Here goes ...


Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Theatrical. All Rights Reserved

... that they backed up the start of their story by about 20 years. As the musical version of this faux fairy tale gets underway, we see Shrek and his parents getting ready to celebrate this cute little ogre's 7th birthday. As a pint-sized Shrek frisks about, pretending to be a knight, Momma & Poppa Ogre sit him down and -- through song -- explain ...

MOMMA SHREK : Listen, son. You're growing up so quickly.
Growing up, bigger by the day.

POPPA SHREK: And though we want you here,
The rules are very clear.

MOMMA SHREK: Now you're seven

POPPA SHREK: Now you've seven

TOGETHER: So it's time ... to go away.

... And -- with this bit of news -- the 7 year-old Shrek (Who now has his back to the audience) sadly slumps his shoulders. And the audience -- as one -- all goes "Awww," as the ogre's parents continue their song.

FATHER SHREK: Your Momma packed a sandwich for your trip.

MOMMA SHREK: Your Poppa packed your boots in case of snow.

TOGETHER: You're gonna make us proud,
No backing up allowed

MOMMA SHREK: Just keep walking

POPPA SHREK: Just keeping walking

TOGETHER: And you'll find somewhere to go.

It's a big bright beautiful world,
With happiness all around,
It's peaches and cream,
And every dream comes true ...

... But not for you.

It's often been said that you only get one chance to make a first impression. But with this opening number, "Shrek the Musical" manages to do in minutes what the original animated feature struggled for an hour or more to do. Which is give the audience a reason to actually care about the title character. Make Shrek someone that we can emotionally invest in. Which is why -- by the end of "Big Bright Beautiful World" (Which you can hear by clicking this link. DreamWorks Theatrical -- in a very web-savvy move -- decided to post several songs from "Shrek the Musical" 's score on YouTube. You can find Fiona's introductory number, "I Know It's Today" by clicking here and Donkey's first tune, "I Could Get Used to This" by clicking here) when the fully-grown version of Shrek (played winningly by Brian D'Arcy James) comes busting out of that outhouse ... Everyone inside the 5th Avenue Theatre is already solidly in his corner.


Brian D'Arcy James as the adult Shrek. Photo by Andrew Eccles.
Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Theatricals. All Rights Reserved

More to the point, by giving Shrek this sort of backstory ... Well, this plot point now gives the ogre and the long-locked-away princess yet another reason to bond. You see, Shrek and Fiona were both abused & abandoned by their parents. These two's squabble about who actually had the worst childhood eventually leads to their second act challenge song, "I Think I Got You Beat."

Speaking of challenges: Given that choreographer Rob Ashford just flew out to Seattle to "assist" with the three or four new numbers that have just been added to this show ... Well, that suggests that there's still a bit of work to be done before "Shrek the Musical" is actually ready for New York audiences. Though -- that said -- this show's opening is still scheduled for December 14th at the Broadway Theatre.

And speaking of the Broadway Theatre ... This particular playhouse has a unique tie to the Walt Disney Company. You see, back in November of 1928, this then-movie theater was known as the Colony. Which is where "Steamboat Willie" had its world premiere. And then -- some twelve years later -- the world premiere of "Fantasia" was held at this very same theater.

Which -- given the many Disney-related gags that are featured in "Shrek the Musical" -- makes staging this show at the Broadway Theatre only seem appropriate. "What sort of gags?," you ask. Well, there's at least one witty nod to Julie Taymor's "The Lion King." Not to mention an explanation of Lord Farquaad's parenthood that's sure to upset "Snow White" fans everywhere.

But as for the rest of "Shrek the Musical" 's surprises ... I'm afraid that you're going to have buy a ticket in order to discover those. Which -- given the sure-to-be-strong reviews that this show will be receiving tomorrow night once it officially opens in Seattle -- now might be a really good time to snag a few seats for "Shrek" 's Broadway debut.

So what do you folks think? Does the above description make "Shrek the Musical" sound like the sort of show that you'd really like to check out? Or are you -- for the moment -- movsicaled out?

Your thoughts?

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  • "Big Bright Beautiful World"? Isn't that kind of like "In the Big Blue World"? I'm sorry, but not all successful films need to be turned into musicals, especially Shrek. PASS!

  • I've liked the Shrek films overall, but this musical doesn't interest me much. It seems much more for the kiddies than did The Lion King or Mary Poppins. And while I realize that Dreamworks has this weird rivalry going on with Disney (thanks perhaps to lingering resentment from Jeffrey Katzenberg?), I really don't see why a Shrek musical was necessary. The Lion King Broadway show was a different, you should excuse the expression, animal than the movie, and expanded upon the story, characters and overall design in a fresh and intriguing way. As for Poppins - well, that movie CRIED to become a musical. But Shrek seems like a blatant attempt to imitate Disney's success onstage, which doesn't arouse my interest. I don't see how Shrek is enhanced by moving it onstage.

  • I was at the Saturday evening performance, and the number "I Think I Got You Beat" was still in the show then.  So perhaps it was removed after Saturday?  By the way, while my first reaction to Shrek being made into a musical was similar to previous posters', the show won me over.  As Shrek the movie ripped off fairy tales and other animated movies, Shrek the Musical also rips off other musicals.  Besides the rip on The Lion King, Lord Farquad has a great rip on Wicked.  In fact, my wife and I turned to each other and said, "They didn't really do that, did they?!?"  And the scene with Fiona and the tap-dancing rats is hilarious!

  • jbrowna:

    Your thoughts on it ripping of other musicals is part of the problem with this show. As evidenced by the fact that Broadway-bashing "Forbidden Broadway" is having trouble finding new material and an audience due to the fact that almost EVERY popular show seems to be more interested in making fun of musical theater rather than creating something new....  Well, that's a big problem.

    Besides, much like "Young Frankenstein" fails because it's source material doesn't work as a stage production, what in this source material actually works as a musical comedy?

    It may be fun, it may be popular, but it is not going to change musical theater in anyway. (Maybe in that respect, it's like "Wicked.")

  • Isn't more like rip on? Anyway,,,,

    I don't think I'll ever quite shake having more interest in the show the South Park guys would've done if they'd taken Katzenberg's offer, as much as I respect that they turned it down.

    I'm sure my little sister will wanna see this, it doesn't sound half bad... but I think it should have gone all out in ripping on the animated film-based musical. Like instead of having an on-model puppet of the Gingerbread Man, I think it would've be funnier to depict him the way TLM depicted Sebastian and Flounder but 10 times more deliberately ludricious with giant gumdrop buttons, etc.

  • Priesman:

    I thought being fun and popular was the whole point of putting on a show.  I mean, if people are entertained and the thing makes money, it's all good!  Not many shows "change musical theater".  I certainly didn't expect Shrek to do that -- and it didn't.  But it did provide an enjoyable evening for the family, with some enjoyable music and lots of laughs.

  • Not interested.  Liked Little Mermaid tho.

  • Sure a lot of in depth opinions from people who haven't a clue at all about it.  Like jbrowna said, if it's funny and popular, people are entertained and it makes money, what else is required?  Last I heard that equaled suceess...

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