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Monday, April 14, 2014

'Shrek' On Ogre to Toby's

Fairy tales usually follow a set pattern. They have a timeless setting, unspecified place, one- dimensional characters (both good or bad) with a purpose to entertain, inspire or teach a lesson. The plot may have a quest, magical creatures, humble hero, diabolical villain, maybe a beautiful princess, and most have a happy ending.
Photo: Kirstine Christiansen
Shrek The Musical playing at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia follows the fairy tale formula perfectly. Our humble hero, the ogre Shrek, played by Russell Sunday, is content in his swampy abode far from other creatures.  His life is turned upside down when his swamp is overrun by a ragtag bunch of fairy tale characters, labeled as “freaks” and “fruitcakes,” cast out of the nearby kingdom of Duloc. These fairy tale creatures persuade Shrek to go to Duloc and convince the evil, dwarf-like Lord Farquaad (played wonderfully by Jeffrey Shankle) to let them return so he can resume his solitary existence.
Farquaad sends Shrek on a quest to rescue the Princess Fiona (Coby Kay Callahan), whom he wants to marry in order to become king.  She is to be rescued from a lava- and dragon-guarded tower in exchange for the deed to his swamp. Along the way, Shrek is joined by Donkey (Calvin McCullough) who becomes his annoyingly talkative friend and “trusty steed.”  

Shrek rescues the Princess Fiona from her long 20 years of waiting and the torch song-singing dragon.  On the way back to Duloc, an unlikely romance develops between the ogre and Princess based on their having more in common; i.e. bodily noises, than what is seen on the surface.  Fiona's secret curse is revealed to Donkey who finally convinces Shrek to return, and with the help of the fairy tale characters and the dragon, stop the wedding and defeat the tyrant Farquaad. With a kiss, Fiona's secret of being an ogress is revealed, and they live happily ever after.
Shrek The Musical is loosely based on William Steig's 1990 children’s book Shrek and follows closely the storyline of the 2001 Dreamworks Animation film Shrek. The film won the first ever Academy Award for best animated feature and has become a children's classic.
The show opened in December 2008 and ran for 441 performances. It received 8 Tony Award nominations and continued the long line of screen to stage musicals. With music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, the musical is full of winking satire, sight gags and nods to other Broadway musicals like Gypsy, A Chorus Line and Wicked.
Russell Sunday, a Toby's veteran of over 30 productions, is the title character and backbone of the show. Despite heavy make-up and costume, he was in fine voice in songs such as "When Words Fail" and "Build A Wall."

Coby Kay Callahan brings great energy and personality to the role of Fiona. She shines in the song “I Know It's Today" with Caroline Otchet as young Fiona and Amanda Kaplan as teen Fiona also giving stellar performances.
Jeffrey Shankle plays the diminutive Lord Farquaad with the flair needed for a comedic villain. Another Toby's veteran, Shankle has the very difficult task of moving, dancing and singing well from his knees.  His vocals were outstanding as evidenced by his performances of “What’s Up, Duloc?” and “The Arrival of Farquaad.”

Calvin McCullough brings great comedic timing and enthusiasm to the sidekick role of Donkey.  Also strong vocally, Mr. McCullough excels in “Don’t Let Me Go” among others.
Ashley Johnson who gives voice to a torch song-singing dragon is another powerful vocalist in the production.

Co-Directed by Lawrence B Munsey and Kevin McAllister, Shrek is a fast-paced, fractured fairy tale. With Musical Direction from Douglas Lawler (reviewed production) and Pamela Wilt, numbers like “A Big Bright Beautiful World” sparkle and is my favorite. Choreography by Shalyce Hemby hit the mark in the big production numbers like “Freak Flag” and “What’s Up Duloc?” where the ensemble players sang and danced with energy and verve.
The set by David A. Hopkins brought the fairy tale land to life with swamps, castles, bridges and towers. Toby’s mainstays Lawrence B. Munsey and Janine Sunday were blessed with the job of Costume Design. They brought to life over a dozen fairy tale characters from Pinocchio to The Three Bears to The Pied Piper.

Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin was instrumental in revealing Fiona's secret. Sound Design by Drew Dedrick made the roar of the ogre and the big dragon believable, and the well-mic’d ensemble were very audible indeed.
Another fairy tale pattern Shrek has in abundance is teaching the lesson of tolerance. It possesses a strong storyline of acceptance of everyone and being true to who you are. Pinocchio says, “I'm wood and I'm good.” The line “Let your freak flag fly” from the musical number “Freak Flag” demonstrates the value of diversity. 

Shrek may have started as a children’s book, and the musical at Toby's had an abundant amount  of children in the audience, but like any good fairy tale, it told a story, entertained and provided a needed lesson of acceptance. Another message offered: you don’t have to be pretty to be beautiful.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
Shrek The Musical runs through June 22 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by visiting tobysdinnertheatre.com or calling 410-730-8311.

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