Theater Review: SHREK (3-D Theatricals in Cerritos)

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by Tony Frankel on August 11, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Shrek The Musical is a mystifying experience. The whole thing is rather inane, versus the sophisticated silliness of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The first time I saw the show was the final performance of the National Tour. I found it dreadfully corny with a few inspired moments. Call it the dumbing-down at Dulac. David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics are like throwing rocks at a barn — some jokes naturally hit (many taken from the blockbuster movie) but most of the eye-rolling groaners should be tossed in the swamp. Better than the tour by a mile, 3-D Theatricals offers a Broadway-caliber, family-friendly, gorgeous production with director David F.M. Vaughn’s high-energy dance numbers, Tom Buderwitz’s dazzling sets, Tim Hatley’s outrageous costumes, Jean-Yves Tessier’s fanciful lighting, and Julie Lamoureux’s outrageously good orchestra — all of which happily detract from the show’s many shortcomings. There is also a great message about acceptance that every kid will love. And who can resist a colony of rats tap dancing up a storm?

Shrek is set in a mythical once-upon-a-time sort of land, where a hulking green ogre (the amazing T.J. Dawson) — after being mocked and feared his entire life by anything that crosses his path — retreats to a swamp to exist in happy isolation. A gang of homeless mostly shrill fairy-tale characters — a screeching Pinocchio (Adam Mantell), Deutschland-accented Three Little Pigs (the killer trio of Colden Lamb, Landen Starkman, Kenny Gary) … you get the idea — raids his sanctuary, saying they’ve been evicted by the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (the astoundingly agile and funny Daniel Dawson). So Shrek strikes a deal: I’ll get your homes back, if you give me my home back. His solitude is over, however, when he saves the life of a talking donkey (the fabulous Cornelius Jones, Jr.), who decides to become the ogre’s BFF and annoying barnacle.

If an obnoxious ass isn’t bad enough, when Shrek and Farquaad meet, the Lord strikes a deal of his own: He’ll return the characters’ homes if Shrek rescues Princess Fiona (Jeanette Dawson) from a fire-breathing dragon (done with whimsical and impressive puppetry), as marriage to Fiona will make Farquaad king. Shrek agrees and enters the world for the first time in his life. He travels to Fiona’s prison, rescues her, and then is forced to get to know the Princess as he tries to bring her back to the evil short one. It doesn’t take long for Shrek to realize that Fiona is very different from what he expected a Princess to be. She may even provoke Shrek’s scariest experience yet: Love.

Jeanine Tesori’s music is downright baffling. Most of her theatrical oeuvre cannot be considered catchy, but her work fits the context of her shows wonderfully, as in the amazing scores for Fun Home and Caroline, or Change. Yet Thoroughly Modern Millie — and to a much greater extent Shrek — scream for those great stand alone songs that give us a break from all the stupidity. Instead we get mostly throw away songs (like the clunkers in Young Frankenstein).

By today’s standards — lowered tremendously since the Golden Age of Broadway — Shrek has an acceptable score: some numbers good, some numbers mediocre, and some just downright bad. The fart number comes to mind. Yes, there’s a fart number with flatulent, burping beat-boxing to illustrate Shrek and Fiona’s similar comfortable confidence. I could have done without Donkey’s jazzy narration of Shrek’s budding love for Fiona, accompanied by the three blind and busty mice. And Fiona’s intro number — in which three successively aged actresses portrayed Fiona throughout her detainment — starts out with a sweet melody then gets lost. The biggest culprit is “The Story of My Life” — its semi-tuneful but ends up a juvenile snoozer with an ultimately forgettable melody that provides backstory for some fairy tale characters but not plot movement.

The sold-out audience at the classy and chic Cerritos Center ate it up, which is no doubt why 3-D has remounted this production. Most amazing for me is that a wonderful company made this pitiable musical palatable.

photos Caught in the Moment Photography

Shrek The Musical
3-D Theatricals
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
12700 Center Court Drive in Cerritos
ends on August 25, 2019
for tickets, call 714.589.2770 or visit 3-D

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marilyn Dumford August 23, 2019 at 10:56 am

My family (all adults) LOVED Shrek, both times! TJ is amazing and lovable, and we loved the rest of the family and cast, as well. Just one complaint. We sat in two areas, one group in the 3rd row in our regular seats and the other higher up in the balcony. Both groups had trouble understanding much of the lyrics, mostly because we felt the orchestra was just too loud. But we still had a great time enjoying the antics of the cast. The special rapport between TJ and Jeanette in “I Think Got You Beat” was so adorable – they were having such a blast with that number! Daniel was so much fun as Lord Farquaard and Cornelius Jones, Jr. was irresistible. This isn’t supposed to be an intellectual show – just pure fun. (Please don’t EVER do “Parade” again. I sat through that 2 miserable times. I know I have to see a “downer” show once in a while, but enduring it twice is too much.) I want to leave the theater feeling good, either from laughing or from having heard incredible music, as in The Secret Garden. Thanks so much for doing Shrek again. I’m looking forward to next season’s offerings.


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