There are several reasons to pack up the family and head to Wheelock Family Theatre’s delightful production of “Shrek!,” David Lindsay Abaire’s musical stage adaptation of the popular 2001 Dreamworks film, and prolific author William Steig’s 1990 best-selling, short children’s book.
Besides an excellent, large cast featuring some of Boston’s finest stars and talented youngsters, helmed by Director Shelley Bolman, there are important messages here. Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be different.. Do your own thing. Be proud of who you are. Abaire’s and Jeanine Tesori’s wonderful song, “Beautiful Ain’t Always Pretty,” yields another truism. And the ending is unanticipated, not exactly your typical happily-ever-after, but a joyful, festive celebration nevertheless.
The 2-1/2 hour-two-act show is also peppered with lots of laughs and entertaining scenes for youngsters and young-at-heart.The show’s lovable characters, both storybook and contrived, and fun costumes conceived by Wheelock’s own marketing and operations manager, Charles Baldwin, are added treats. Parents with little ones needn’t fear scary stuff here. Kids of all ages sat rapt, laughing and cheering at all the right stuff.
Big, green, rotund Shrek, (fantastic, tall Christopher Chew) is more homespun looking, with a muddy face and patchwork clothing, while his foil, bad man Farquaard (terrific Mark Linehan) is wonderfully comedic, tossing his black page-boy tresses and walking on his knees, with faux limbs dangling from them, simulating a short, Napoleonic tyrant.
Baldwin has also created a lonely, heartbroken, 21-foot orange dragon (manned by six puppeteers) with huge, black eyelashes. She wants somebody to love her, instead of her frightening off visitors and intruders.
She sets those big eyes on Shrek’s newfound,oddball friend, Donkey, whom we love, too, thanks to Maurice Emmanuel Parent’s funky portrayal. Townsfolk consider Donkey a freak of nature, because he can talk - and he talks a lot.
Shrek’s outraged when his swamp’s invaded by many outcasts, mainly Ariel the little mermaid, the three pigs, Pinocchio, the big, bad wolf, the Wicked Witch, Three Blind Mice, the ugly duckling, the Pied Piper, and others.
To return his swamp to solitude, Shrek must rescue Princess Fiona so cruel leader Farquaard can marry her and become a real king - with a queen. Happily, plans go awry.
When Shrek rescues Princess Fiona,he’s not exactly a knight in shining armor or the handsome prince she expected. Nor do Shrek and Fiona realize they have much in common and share sad childhoods. They were both banished from their homes and forced to live alone- Shrek, in a deserted swamp, where he scares off intruders, and Fiona, in a tall tower, waiting for her true love to come, and free her.
Fiona is also under a Wicked Witch’s terrible spell. She’s a red-haired, feisty princess by day, and an ugly ogress at night. Her progression from child (Audree Hedequist) to teen-ager (Erin McMillen) to adult (Shonna Cirone) in song, “I Know It’s Today,” is touching. So’s the ensemble’s rendition of “[It’s a] Big Bright Beautiful World,” which little Shrek’s parents sing to him on his seventh birthday, adding, “but not for you”. Little folks giggled and clapped in Fiona and Shrek’s duet, “I Think I Got You Beat,” as the courting couple out-grossed each other.
Let’s face it- even big boys and girl love fart and burp jokes. It’s another one of this show’s treasured surprises.
BOX INFO: David Lindsay Abaire’s two-act musical stage adaptation of Dreamworks film, “Shrek,” music by Jeanine Tesori, original book by William Steig, featuring a huge cast, through May 24, at Wheelock Family Theatre, 180 The Riverway, Boston. Performances:Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday,Sunday, at 3 p.m. Tickets, $20,$25,$30,$35; Party Fridays, $15. Call 617-879-2300, visit www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org or email@example.com.