Shrek musical entertains at Red Deer College

Shrill-voiced Pinocchio, three Germanic pigs, a cross-dressing wolf and all manner of magical fairy-tale folk are letting their “freak flags fly” on the Red Deer Arts Centre stage.

Shrill-voiced Pinocchio, three Germanic pigs, a cross-dressing wolf and all manner of magical fairy-tale folk are letting their “freak flags fly” on the Red Deer Arts Centre stage.

And so did many of the people who watched Thursday’s enjoyable opening night performance of Shrek: The Musical. Dozens of paper flags were waved by audience members in response to lines such as: “It’s not a choice you make, it’s just how you were hatched.”

It shows how much of a cultural phenomenon this contemporary fairy tale, with its light-hearted messages about inclusiveness and embracing individuality, has become since William Steig created his 1990 Shrek picture book.

After the splashy 2001 big-screen movie adaptation and its three sequels, came a short 3-D film, a theme park ride, two television specials, a Puss-in-Boots spin-off, and a 2008 Broadway musical adaptation.

The fun stage show, with script and music by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, is being presented by RDC Theatre Studies students — and they’ve done a terrific job of recreating the beloved roles.

Fans of the Shrek films will warm to Brendan Hutchison’s portrayal of the title character, a grouchy Scottish ogre who agrees to rescue a princess to get his swamp land back from fairy-tale squatters.

Along for the adventure is his pushy but perceptive, wise-cracking burro buddy Donkey (Logan Shave).

And waiting to bust out of her lofty tower is the spunky Princess-with-a-secret Fiona (portrayed by Bethany Monaghan and, in younger incarnations, by Emily Vaillant and Grace Hoffart), who initially mistakes Shrek and Donkey for a noble knight and his steed.

Anyone who’s seen the movies will know pretty much what to expect as the RDC cast gives the characters the same vocal treatments as Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and the rest of the film cast.

Director Tom Bradshaw understandably went in this right direction since everyone is so familiar with the films. And the populist approach generated laughs — such as when Gingy the Gingerbread Man (portrayed as a high-voiced puppet by Meegan Sweet) responds to Lord Farquaad’s threats with “Eat me!”

Or when the Three Little Pigs (Dustin Funk, Bret Jacobs, and Ashley Keenan) say anything at all in their German accents.

Or when Fiona sings Morning Person and shows how too much coffee can be lethal to bluebirds.

Some of the small divergences are good calls — such as turning the Three Blind Mice (Ashley Keenan, Tori Grebinski and Nicole Leal) into a dance team.

Others are less successful. The vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (Alicia Maedel) is not menacing enough, for instance, and depicting the giant dragon (voiced by Sweet) as a benign Muppet instead of a fiery threat diminishes whatever other conflict this story line had.

Hutchinson is also a better actor than singer, but he’s helped along by Shave and Monaghan’s stronger pipes.

The great chemistry between the three leads is the best thing about this well-paced production — as is the solid support from side characters, including the ponderously long-winded Bishop (Bronlynn Bleich), obnoxiously endearing Pinocchio (Ashley Mercia), the sly Big Bad Wolf, (Trysten Luck), and tap dancing Rats.

Designer Carrie Hamilton created an interesting set resembling a row of storybooks that can be opened as pop-ups, or turned into more elaborate settings. There’s some fun choreography by Jill Kuzina, and a live eight-musician orchestra, conducted by Val Sherman.

But a hitch to this family musical is the lack of catchy hooks in the original tunes and the absence of all but one cover song. Presumably because of royalty costs there’s no Hallelujah, I’m On My Way, Best Years Of Our Lives, or You Belong to Me.

There is I’m a Believer, however, and it should keep kids and their parents happily humming all the way home.

Shrek: The Musical continues to Dec. 5.

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