Uncommon Theatre's 36th season's fall show is "Shrek, the Musical", based on the Oscar winning Dreamworks animation movie with the same name from 2001. It has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire with the original source material from William Steig's 1990 book "Shrek." The story begins when Shrek tells the audience his parents sent him out of the house at the age of 7 and into the world to make a living. They warn him because of his looks, everyone will hate him and he will come to a bad end. The audience joins Shrek and his loyal steed, Donkey on their quest to rescue the beautiful if slightly temperamental Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a love sick fire-breathing dragon. Throw in the diminutive Lord Farquaad who is in love with Fiona, a gang of fairytale misfits, and a gingerbread cookie with attitude to the list of wild and crazy characters that Shrek and the audience meet along the way. Shrek is an outsider who goes on a journey to discover where he belongs in the world. This is something everyone can relate to as well as an important lesson to learn that you should learn to accept everybody no matter how they look. Add splendid singing and dancing by this 41 member cast with excellent direction and terrific choreography by Michael Hammond and marvelous music direction by Paula Bishop. This high energy musical is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call with the whole audience singing "I'm a Believer" with Shrek and his cast mates.
Michael picks the best performers for these roles and infuses them with keen insight into the comic and dramatic moments that enthrall the crowd. His choreography is breathtaking especially the tap dance, the twist, the Charleston and some Motown dances. The 19 songs and music soar under Paula's direction with her excellent 14 piece orchestra. Leading this huge cast is Ben Reingold as Shrek. He is dynamic in this role, winning over the audience with his sympathetic portrayal. Ben's songs include "Big Bright Beautiful World", when he sings about being alone in the swamp, "When Words Fail" when he tries to explain his feelings to Fiona, "Build a Wall" when he is angry with everyone around him and "Beautiful Ain't Always Pretty", when he falls in love at last. His duet with Fiona is "I Think I Got You Beat" which is reminiscent of "Anything You Can Do" from "Annie Get Your Gun" where they compete with each other in an hilarious burping and farting contest. Ben closes the show with "I'm A Believer" of Monkee fame with the whole cast dancing to it. Ben is a triple threat performer in this role!
Ashley Tsimotsos is a hoot as the Donkey. She steals almost every scene she is in with her wild and crazy antics as well as her expert delivery of the witty one liners. Ashley's powerful voice is heard in "Don't Let Me Go" when she first meets Shrek, "Travel Song" where she explains she's a GPS in fur, "Forever" is when the Donkey discovers the Dragon is holding Fiona captive, "Who I'd Be", "Make a Move" when she encourages Shrek to pursue Fiona and "This Is Our Story" which brings the Donkey a happy ending. Multitalented beautiful red head, Cara DiPietro is superb as the spunky, Fiona. This character isn't afraid of anyone and speaks her mind freely. Her lovely voice is heard in the very poignant "I Know It's Today, where she sings about being rescued by a prince ( sung in perfect three part harmony with Grace Clark as Young Fiona and Maya Blodgett as Teen Fiona) "This Is How A Dream Comes True", "Who I'd Be" where she, Shrek and the Donkey sing of the secrets they are hiding, "Morning Person", a stunning show stopping tap dance that opens Act 2, "I Think I Got You Beat", the farting song and "This Is Our Story" where she and Shrek get together at last. Marvelous work by the three leading players.
The rest of the cast lives up to the high standards of the leading players. Matt Corbett plays the part of Lord Farquaad excellently. He is the villain of the show as he wants Shrek killed so he can have Fiona for his own. Matt shines as this Snidley Whiplash character as he oozes evilness from every pore of his being. He plays the part on his knees with fake legs and his dancing has to be seen to be believed. His terrific voice soars in his two big song and dance numbers "What's Up Duloc?" and "The Ballad of Farquaad." Matt is hilarious while stealing many a scene with his expert comic timing. Farquaad's even smaller father, Grumpy of Snow White fame is played by tiny Jake Zinno. He is a hoot as Grumpy who finally puts Farquaad in his place.Cat Sapovits plays the comical Dragon marvelously. She displays her powerful voice in "Forever" with Ashley as she falls in love with Donkey. Leading the fairytale characters is Pinocchio played splendidly by Alexandra Phillips and is hilarious as her nose keeps growing longer every time she tells a lie. Alexandra speaks in a high pitched voice and leads the chorus in "Story of My Life", "The Goodbye Song" and "The Freak Flag" which is where the fairytale characters do a Motown dance that captivates the audience. Brooke Leifer who is a sixth grader is a hoot as Gingy, the gingerbread cookie who is tortured by Farquaad so he can find his princess and become king. Her fabulous singing voice is heard in "The Freak Flag." Christopher Alves steals quite a few scenes as the cross dressing Big Bad Wolf! There are many twists and turns leading up to its heartwarming ending. So for a phenomenal musical treat that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, be sure to catch Uncommon's "Shrek, the Musical" at the Orpheum Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you.