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‘Shrek the Musical’ at Northwest School of the Arts

blumey student critics
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Sean Breitkreutz

Because Northwest School of the Arts is a performance-based school, I entered its production of “Shrek the Musical” with high expectations. I expected the musical to remain true to the film’s beloved, irreverent humor and parodic twists on fairy tale clichés. I expected to be blown away by the performances and the technical aspects of the show. Northwest topped my expectations in both fields.

I felt as if the cast stepped right out of the screen onto the stage. The set captured the over-the-top, fairytale feel of the story. Everything from the colorful greenery of the swamp to the tower in which the lone Princess waits paid tribute to the film, as did the excellent costumes. When Lord Farquaad first stumbled in on his cleverly designed miniature legs, I thought, “Wow, these guys are dedicated.” Inside jokes are scattered throughout the entire play, from the exploding bird to the Gingerbread Man’s hilariously executed gumball-button torture.

One forest scene even involved a stuffed mouse attached to a remote-controlled car. What may sound like a cheap, silly effect actually fit the ridiculous humor of the show perfectly, and the audience roared as the mouse bumped into a tree and took a moment to get offstage – probably a mistake, but so well-executed that it wouldn’t take much to convince me it was supposed to happen. That was part of the beauty of the show; ridiculous elements came together to ensure the audience wouldn’t take the musical too seriously.

The high-budget sets weren’t the only element true to the original “Shrek.” Costumes were impressive as well. One scene gathered fairytale creatures onstage to provide the audience with eye candy galore. Everyone from Humpty Dumpty on his wall to Pinocchio sang and danced in a lively way in a wittily designed costume. Not once did it take me more than a second to figure out whom an actor was trying to portray.

One character that especially stood out was the Dragon in Fiona’s castle. A huge dragon puppet with blinking eyes and a workable mouth stole the castle scene, as three black-suited ladies worked together to control the impressive creature.

Gorgeous costumes and exciting sets are great but would be nothing if the cast were just OK. Luckily, the actors fit their roles perfectly. The strongest actors/singers were well cast as the leads, but talented actors played the fairytale creatures.

Mekhai Lee nailed the voice and character of the ogre; Abby Corrigan delivered outstanding personality with her comic interpretation of Princess Fiona, and Phillip Johnson came through with all the sass and crude humor we expect from Donkey. (His soulful singing voice stood out, reflecting the personality of the character.)

Kelly Delponte was consistently funny in Lord Farquaad’s unsuccessful attempts at menace. When scenes centered around fart jokes, the actors altered their deliveries to fit the mood and humor. Choreography was spot-on and silly, depending on the musical number driving it.

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