Never read the book (by William Steig). Never saw the animated movie (Dream Works). Never saw the show (book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Aaire, music by Jeanine Tesori). So the jolly green ogre called Shrek was news to me. The audience at the Walnut Street Theater’s production of this musical seemed to know every bit of the story and greeted each favorite character with wild whoops of joy.
To my surprise (not being a fan of fart jokes), I was completely won over: it’s witty as well as funny (my favorite moment: Pinocchio says to Peter Pan, “Oh, grow up.”). The costumes (Mary Folino) and the sets (Robert Kovach) are spectacular, The enormous, high-energy cast can all dance and sing with joy.
But the show rests on the stars. Nicholas L. Parker is a fine, lumbering Shrek to Julia Udine’s adorable Princess Fiona, and the excellent Ben Dibble outdoes himself as villainous Lord Farquaad (the illusion created of a tiny person with tiny legs is uncanny); Dana Orange is a lovable, tiptop Donkey.
The message here is the moral of most contemporary fairy tales (Wicked, the new Addams Family): tolerance; don’t judge people by their looks. That message is exuberantly delivered in the full-ensemble number, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” that brought the happy house down.
[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street] November 5, 2019–January 5, 2020; walnutstreettheatre.org