The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Shrek the Musical
Organization El Dorado Musical Theatre
Date(s) of show February 24-March 5, 2017
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb

I just saw opening night of El Dorado Musical Theatre’s Shrek the Musical.  Can we talk?  Maybe you’re an adult thinking this is a kid show, and a silly one at that.  Wrong!  For me, watching this production was like reading a novel full of cultural or literary references.  The more you “get,” the more satisfying the experience is.  And Shrek was loaded with mostly humorous references to musicals, movies, songs of past decades, fairy tales, and other cultural references.  I could imagine a contest among viewers to see who could spot the most references.

But seeing this show wasn’t just an intellectual exercise:  it was loaded with humor of all kinds – cerebral, slapstick, “low” (you can guess what I mean):  in short, humor that both adults and kids can appreciate.  But I must say that I laughed a lot more than the 8 kids sitting next to me in my row.  And the humor wouldn’t have worked as well, were it not for the brilliant staging and stunning performances by the cast.  Let me insert here, that I saw the touring company of Shrek the Musical a few years ago, and all I remember is being mildly disappointed.  This production, on the other hand, was dazzling.

First and foremost, the show is a musical, but none of its songs have been covered by popular singers, so none of them are familiar.  But I really enjoyed them, from the very first “Big Bright Beautiful World,” loaded with laughs, in which the young Shrek is sent off into the world (at the age of 7) by his parents.  The songs represent a variety of pop styles, and many were as hilarious as the first, a few even touching.  But the best part is that they were so well done.  The solos and duets were performed by teenagers with outstanding voices and song styling.  For example, I could watch Kelly Maur (Princess Fiona) and Zach Wilson (Shrek) perform “I Think I Got You Beat” over and over.  And as so often happens in EDMT productions, I spotted a lot of wonderful young talent (younger than the 17- to 19-year-old leads).  I can’t name all of them, but 13-year-old Emily Hobbs sang beautifully as the Young Fiona.  Then the glow of her performance was carried on by 15-year-old Nittany Biggs as the Teen Fiona.

So many of group numbers were simply eye-popping.  From past High Voltage shows, I’ve learned to love “Freak Flag,” and it was great to feel its energy again.  But added to that, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the Duloc Dancers:  32 performers with plastic blond Pageboy wigs, red boots and gloves, short red skirts, with blue tights and red vests – and red cheeks.  And the only way to tell the boys from the girls was that the boys had yellow bowties.   As the outfitting of the Duloc Dancers illustrates, the costumes and make-up in Shrek were extraordinary in their variety and complexity.  But besides being impressive in themselves, there were so many costume changes that it felt like the cast was much bigger than the 32 listed in the playbill.

Then there was the element in this show that you won’t get in other productions:  Zach Wilson’s professional-quality projections that give amazing presence and depth to each scene.  His illustrations of the jokes in the dialog were clever, and the animated lake of molten lava (to go along with the real steam and red lights) made the trip to the dragon’s lair scarier than the dragon itself (and the multi-actor dragon was one of the great props in this show).  With professionally crafted props, costumes, and projections, this production was nothing short of kaleidoscopic.

Above all, the acting was superb.  Veteran Zack Wilson as Shrek showed he can sing and dance his way brilliantly through any part.  And EDMT’s go-to diva, Kelly Maur, sang, danced and acted to her usual standard.  Surely she is Broadway-bound.  Stephen Knoble gave a great Eddie Murphy interpretation as the irrepressible Donkey.  And Dalton Johnson delivered an over-the-top performance as Lord Farquaad.  It was impossible not to laugh at the way he moved on his knees, but most impressive was his inspired portrayal of this outrageous comic character

As always, this show was loaded with outstanding dance numbers, each full of energy, each visually arresting, and most appropriately for this story – enhanced with creative, quirky effects.  For example, in one scene most of the marching soldiers were carrying rifles, but one was carrying a rolling pin and another a whisk.  Later on the Pied Piper couldln’t get animals to follow him until Fiona played the flute (or whatever), and then with the curtain raised a foot and a half, you saw the tap dancing feet of dozens of rats.  The curtain went up and voilà, it was a send-up of 42nd Street.  There were so many other clever, humorous touches:  Fiona sang a duet with a bird, almost like the scene in Mary Poppins, except Fiona hit a high note and the bird exploded.  The Three Blind Mice were a Las Vegas-style lounge act and a hoot to watch and hear.  Lord Farquaad’s horse went off-stage backwards, and you heard the sound of back-up warning beeps.  This show was an explosion of imagination.

Then when you thought it was all over and actors were taking well-earned bows, a drum set rolled in at stage left, Lord Farquaad and Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf came out with electric guitars, and everyone on stage began clapping rhythmically and dancing to The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.” It was a high-energy, joyful ending to a show that was already loaded with fun.  Thinking about it on the way home, it took a half-hour for my smile to fade.

 Reviews Home    Organizations    Shows