Fans of the popular DreamWorks animated film of 2001, the 1990 children’s book by William Steig on which it was based, and the 4-D attraction at Universal Studios’ theme park in Orlando have the opportunity to see their favorite green ogre and a host of other fairytale characters come to life right in their own community with the Ritz Theatre Company’s local production of SHREK THE MUSICAL. And they can even buy a pair of Shrek ears to take home with them from the concessions counter.
The narrative follows the adventures of Shrek (played by Craig Hutchings), a misanthropic swamp-dwelling ogre whose solitary life is disrupted when a group of storybook creatures arrive on his property after having been banished from the Kingdom of Duloc by the villainous little Lord Farquaad (Matt Reher). On his quest to regain his land, Shrek meets a talking Donkey (David M. Mooney), fights a fire-breathing Dragon (April Lindley), and rescues Princess Fiona (Megan Pisors) from the tower in which she has been imprisoned since childhood. They soon find they have more in common than she does with the Lord who intends to marry her, as her secret curse is revealed and Shrek’s life is forever changed.
The two-act, two-and-a-half-hour Broadway show by Jeanine Tesori (music) and David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) makes for an ambitious undertaking; the Ritz features a 21-person ensemble (directed by Ernie Jewell), 20 musical numbers (vocal direction by Mario Marzullo), dancing (choreograph by Kelly Rosado), puppets (courtesy of Hob Hollow Studios), a big set (Kris Clayton and Ernie Jewell), and colorful lighting (Chris Miller), make-up, and costumes (by Tina Marie Heinze; Hutchings alone requires two hours before each performance to be transformed into the titular character).
Most entertaining among the scenes is Act II’s joyful tap dance by Fiona, backed by a chorus line of frisky animals, and the ebullient rendition of “I’m a Believer”–The Monkees’ 1966 hit song by Neil Diamond–that closes the show. But aside from all the spectacle and abundance (and some crude segments of the ogres passing gas and belching), the story contains an important message for kids: to find the beauty within, because even those who are different deserve to be treated with respect, to feel self-esteem, to have friends they can count on, and to find true love. That’s a good lesson for everyone to learn. [915 White Horse Pike, Haddon Twp., NJ] July 9-August 2, 2015; ritztheatreco.org.