When filing into the theater for Shrek, one might notice a few different things. There is a stage at the center of a large collection of seats, creating a theatre-in-the-round setting. Scenic and Properties Designer Kristen Martino’s stage is covered in green lighting and physical swamp grass, and above are television screens with Video Designer Anthony Churchill’s projections of trees and other swamp plants that one might find. The screens in particular are an excellent addition, allowing the space to extend past the stage, and fully transform into the swamp from this magical fairytale. This set-up is certainly striking, but this writer’s eye caught something a little different – specifically the large group of young people filling the seats surrounding the stage.
Kids of all ages – many of whom were in costumes, were taking in the stage, whispering to each other about the thrilling elements in the room. A youthful energy full of wonder and excitement filled the space, and this writer has certainly never felt anything like it before.
Marriott Theatre presents Shrek: The Musical
With book by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, Shrek the Musical follows the storyline of the original 2001 film. Shrek (Shea Coffman, with impressive vocals) finds that Lord Farquaad (Steven Strafford) has sentenced all of the fairytale creatures in Duloc to life in the swamp – which also happens to be Shrek’s home. In order to get his land back, Shrek agrees to save Princess Fiona (Jacquelyne Jones) from a dragon-guarded tower to bring her back to be Farquaad’s queen. With the help of Donkey (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, with excellent comedic timing, particularly in his duet with Shrek Travel Song), Shrek embarks on a journey to save the fair maiden – and as with any Disney story, learns far than he ever imagined about his own happiness and capacity for love.
Much like the movie, the musical is fully aware of itself in a clever manner. The story manages to both embrace and poke fun at the typical fairytale stereotypes, such as the princess waiting for her prince charming to rescue her from the tower. While there is a damsel-in-distress figure, Fiona is far from weak, and Jones carries that strength proudly in her portrayal – particularly in her hilarious duet with Shrek, I Think I Got You Beat, in which the duo battles it out on who had the worse upbringing. Coffman and Jones play off each other beautifully in this number, inviting a roar of laughter to erupt in this performance’s audience.
A Musical Made for Young Audiences
Marriott’s production, directed by Scott Weinstein, with choreography by William Carols Angulo and musical direction by Matt Deitchman, may be abridged for the young audiences, but certainly maintains the intended energy. Weinstein clearly worked with the ensemble to create an engaging performance for this audience from start to finish – beginning as soon as Shrek enters the space. Coffman immediately interacts with the audience members, joking around with the young people about “bathroom needs” and asking what they were doing in his swamp. The conversations were perfectly in Coffman’s character – full of light-hearted comedy in combination with the ogre’s aggression. Coffman manages to ease these patrons into the performance, smoothly prepping them for what they are about to see. By the time we see the first song of the show – Shrek’s Big Bright Beautiful World, the kids are hooked, and excited to see what Shrek does next.
Costume Designer Theresa Ham further enhances the experience for these patrons through her designs. While the story itself transforms the typical fairytales, Ham’s costumes are recognizable, from Grandma’s nightgown on the Big Bad Wolf to the green hat and tunic ensemble on Peter Pan, and even the overalls and pig ears on the Three Little Pigs. Ham’s designs contribute to the magic of the piece, and as soon as the fairytale creatures march into the swamp in exile at the top of the musical singing Story of My Life, the audience members knew exactly who each of them were, and cheered as each sang their story.
Excellent Message for the Intended Audience
Shrek sets out to save the Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower so that Farquaad can marry her. This writer does not want to give away the ending, but as with any fairytale, there is a love story that forms between the princess and the dashing knight that saves her, contributing to the events that follow. At a key moment in the Big Bright Beautiful World reprise, Shrek sings the following line, which acts as the perfect summary for the musical as a whole:
“You’ve never read a book like this, but fairytales should really be updated.”
While so many of the classic fairytales focus on beauty, Shrek: The Musical is all about learning to love yourself and embrace the qualities that make you different. Much as the fairytale characters sing in Freak Flag:
“Let your freak flag wave, let your freak flag fly.”
This may be a musical production meant for young audiences, but the message is clear to anyone who listens, and an important one at that. It seems that the Marriott Theatre picked the perfect production to add to their Young Audiences Series – one that teaches us that all we need to find a happy ending is to the capacity to love.
A brilliant ensemble and fun score make Shrek: The Musical the perfect production for everyone in the family.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Running Time: 60 minutes, no intermission
Shea Coffman… Shrek,
Jacquelyne Jones… Fiona
Steven Strafford… Farquaad
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis… Donkey,
Ensemble: Stephen Allen, Jr., Landree Fleming, Rachel Guth, Keirsten Hodgens, Jersie Joniak, Ron King, Garrett Lutz, Sarah Ohlson, Liam Quealy, and Sara Reinecke
Scott Weinstein… Director
William Carlos Angulo… Choreographer
Matt Deitchman… Musical Director
Kristen Martino… Set and Properties Designer
Jesse Klug… Lighting Designer
Theresa Ham… Costume Designer
Robert E. Gilmartin… Sound Designer
Anthony Churchill… Video Designer
Running through December 30, 2018
Wednesdays at 10:00am
Thursdays at 10:00am
Fridays at 10:00am
Saturdays at 10:00am
Sundays at 10:00am
The Marriott Theatre
10 Marriott Dr.
Lincolnshire, IL 60069
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.