Monday, December 8, 2014

TITG’s Shrek, the Musical A Fine Family Outing

Maille O'Brien (the witch), Jeremiah
Stephens (Pinocchio) and ensemble.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Theatre in the Grove’s holiday offering is not a Christmas show – or even a traditional holiday show – yet it is charmingly appropriate fare for this festive time of year. The first Sunday matinee was full to the brim with families spending a few hours together enjoying David Lindsay-Abaire’s lively musical adaptation of William Steig’s 1990 book and the 2001 Dreamworks movie. A striking feature of this show is that the shared family experience goes well beyond the audience to encompass all phases of the production. Director Jeanna Van Dyke makes it clear in her director’s notes that this is no accident – “On stage, and off stage (and even below the stage in the pit orchestra) are a number of family members working and playing together on Shrek; moms, dads, little brothers, big brothers, sisters, spouses, foster parents, nieces, nephews, nannies, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This production is dedicated to Family.”

James Grimes (Donkey)
The story of the ogre Shrek finding true love is propelled by an enormous cast: forty plus actors and a surprisingly accomplished fourteen piece orchestra. Theatre in the Grove has one of the only Washington County stages capable of accommodating such a massive group, and (despite the fact that over half the cast are children) the costume and scene changes and blocking are seamless.

Like the movie, the witty script is designed for children but is laced with comic references that are clearly aimed at adults, and the show’s principals make sure that none of these touches are lost through a misplaced subtlety.  James Grimes (“Donkey”) gives an unforgettable performance – he is a strong singer and adept comic whose uninhibited facial expressions and fluid dancing provide the electric charge that drives the show’s dynamics. Tristan Stewart (“Shrek”) brings a wide range of emotions and a powerful singing voice to the role of the lonely, misunderstood ogre who is initially feared but emerges as the show’s hero. “I Think I Got You Beat,” his duet with Michelle Bahr (“Princess Fiona”) is a curious twist on Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” but in Shrek the two compete hilariously to determine which of the two has had the more miserable childhood. Bahr is a fine singer and comedienne who manages to create endearing chemistry with her chubby green Romeo even before she reveals her own inner ogress.

Other particularly effective comic performances include Dan Bahr as “Lord Farquaad”, a nasty Toulouse-Lautrec sized villain with an outsized ego, Breanna Grimes, a gingerbread amputee with a lovely voice, Tom Robinson as a gender-bending Big Bad Wolf, and Jeremiah Stephens as Pinocchio, the new spokesperson for puppet pride (“I’m wood, I’m good, get used to it!”).

The entire Theatre in the Grove community has obviously put their hearts into Shrek, the Musical, and the result is everything that Director Van Dyke wants – a family-friendly, family-filled fantasy suitable and entertaining for all ages. The music, colorful costumes, clever choreography (where else can you see a kick-line done on knee-pads?), and simple but effective set design work together to enhance the cast’s dedication and obvious joy as they present this entertaining musical to brighten the holiday season. Warning – it is a long show, and parents are advised to get their littler ones out of their seats to burn off some energy at intermission!

“Shrek, the Musical” is running at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through December 21 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.


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