She’s the executive director for ASU Gammage, while he’s an ASU volcanologist. I was there with my 17-year-old daughter, Lizabeth.
It looked at the time like a volcano had just erupted in the theater, as children scurried to and fro trying to capture a few of the large circles of green and silver confetti released during the show’s final number — the song “I’m a Believer,” composed by Neil Diamond and recorded by the Monkees in 1966. (It’s the Smash Mouth cover that you hear during the 2001 movie “Shrek.”)
“I didn’t want to like it,” I confessed to Jennings-Roggensack. “But now I’m a believer!” We agreed that, although the musical is plenty fun for kids, it seemed at times that the adults might be having the most fun. As we chatted, a silver-haired woman walked by — unaware she was sporting confetti in her gorgeous locks.
It’s hard to pin down the intended audience of this baby. Unlike some works that integrate youth and adult material with ease, “Shrek” seems to skip back and forth between the two.
It leaves the show, though perfectly enjoyable, feeling a bit choppy and disjointed. At times, it reads like a sparkling Las Vegas extravaganza. But sometimes it’s just a simple fairy tale.
To the credit of playwright David Lindsay-Abair and the rest of the musical’s creative team, “Shrek the Musical” isn’t a mere rehashing of the “Shrek” movies. The same characters are there, but the story has more layers — much like the onion Shrek uses to show his new friend Donkey that he’s more complicated than he appears.
“Shrek” is great fun for those who enjoy the occasional homage or parody of favorite fairy tales or Broadway musicals. Think “Wicked,” “Les Mis,” “Lion King,” “HAIR” and more.
I’m certain I heard echos of “Rent” and “Hairspray” tunes, but Lizabeth tells me I’m merely “ovethinking things again.” I found myself wishing they’d found a way to incorporate “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” but perhaps that would have been in poor taste.
The show is heavy with messages and morality tales. I suspect they’re too complex for younger theater-goers, yet a tad too sappy for the more mature crowd. “What makes us special,” we’re often told, “is what makes us strong.”
Tear down your walls. Don’t judge. Things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t fear something just because you don’t understand it. My favorite number, “Freak Flag,” is a high-energy celebration of diversity.
Still, Lizabeth and I agreed that we might enjoy the show more if it ran a bit shorter — closer to 90 minutes or so. Though I certainly wouldn’t want the job of deciding which scenes to cut. It’s best, I suppose, that producers never think to call for my opinion on such matters.
The four lead actors — Eric Petersen (Shrek), Haven Burton (Princess Fiona), Alan Mingo, Jr. (Donkey) and David F. M. Vaughn (Lord Farquaad) — were well matched in terms of talent, with each showing particular strengths. Sadly, the full measure of Petersen’s vocal talent isn’t revealed until well into the second act.
Other vocal powerhouses in this production include Carrie Compere (Dragon, Mama Ogre, Tweedledum), who dedicates her performance to the memory of her mother — leading me to surmise that her mom was a blissful blend of joyous and strong. Also Aymee Garcia (Mama Bear, Gingy), whose gingerbread cookie is smart and sassy. (Think “Eat me!”)
My favorite scenes featured Fiona’s entourage of tap dancing rats, a Shrek and Fiona burp-fest, and Shrek’s anthem to self-doubt titled “When Words Fail.” Plus anything and everything involving puppetry — especially the dragon scene — which you’ll appreciate even more if you’ve seen the fine work of our own local Great Arizona Puppet Theater.
Puppetry on this grand scale requires athleticism and agility, and you’d be wise to extend the fun at home by having plenty of puppets at the ready so your child can act out his or her own stories.
Laptime with favorite fairy tales may also surge in popularity at your house after you’ve experienced this show with your kids.
You might also want to revisit the “Shrek” films — as well as the “Shrek” book written by William Steig (first published in 1990). It’s fun to find and talk about differences in various tellings of a single story.
When all is said and done, I suppose you’d have to say that I’m a believer.
Note: “Shrek the Musical” (Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, Music by Jeanine Tesori) runs at ASU Gammage in Tempe through Jan 9. Click here to see “Gammage Goer” reviews of “Shrek” and other ASU Gammage productions.
Coming up: Expert tips on college theater program auditions