STRONG SHOWING - From left

RDC hits high note with Shrek – The Musical

Pack up the family for an imaginative and creative adventure via Shrek – The Musical, currently onstage at Red Deer College’s Arts Centre mainstage.

Directed by Thomas Bradshaw with lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, the show runs through to Dec. 5th.

Curtain is at 7 p.m. There is also a weekend public matinees on Dec. 5th at 1 p.m.

Fans of the hugely popular Shrek films will get a kick out of this production, which features all the favourite characters in essentially the same storyline as the first movie. Of course, the 20 or so songs woven into the show add an entirely new feel to the show, and thanks to the writing skills of the aforementioned Lindsay-Abaire and Tesoi, the addition works very well.

As to the story, there lives an ogre named Shrek (played by Brendan Hutchison). He’s kind of a miserable fellow – and no wonder. He’s never been told that he amounts to much, and ogres are known for their ugliness and relative nastiness, too. But Shrek’s world brightens when a loyal new friend, Donkey, comes bounding into his world with all his irrepressible positivity, energy and ‘glass half full’ perspective. At first, it’s an unlikely friendship for and Shrek holds back but soon the two are buddies in a quest to rescue Princess Fiona – who holds a secret of her own – and is journeying to marry Lord Farquaad (Alicia Maedel).

Donkey is played by Logan Shave and Bethany Monaghan stars as Fiona.

Rounding out the cast is an array of famous fairytale characters who are on a quest to find a place they belong as well. Some of the play’s most charming and flat-out fun moments are when the principal cast members are joined by this troupe, which includes such folks as Pinocchio (Ashley Mercia), the Three Blind Mice (Ashley Keenan, Tori Grebinski and Nicole Leal); the Mad Hatter (Eric Walters) and Humpty Dumpty (Emily Vaillant).

Essentially, one of story’s strongest, most prominent themes is that whole business of finding that elusive sense of belonging, of a place to fit in. And also becoming confident in who you are – regardless of how outsiders might see you or how other may label you. In the end, true love wins and indeed – everyone lives ‘happily ever after’.

Overall, the production is a charmer. The set design (by the wonderful Carrie Hamilton) and costumes (designed by Donna Jopp) provide a perfect foundation for what unfolds. The orchestra is also superb, as is the choreography (guided by Jill Kuzina).

And far the vast majority of the show, the vocals shine through as well – not always an easy feat with RDC productions in the past where there is a limited amount of solid singers to draw from. Happily the three principle actors can sing – particularly Donkey and Fiona. So we as an audience are always pretty much clear about the plot development in those regards.

But more than that, these talented young actors really bring the story to life. As Shrek, Hutchison is solid in capturing the ogre’s stubborn and at first gruff sensibilities. Monaghan is terrific as Fiona as well – nailing the independent spirit and tenderness that this sweet character is certainly known for. But ultimately, it’s the Donkey who time and again steals the show – Shave is absolutely superb.

He’s hilarious to watch with his constant antics onstage, and audiences just can’t help but find his personality utterly irresistible. Who wouldn’t want a loyal pal like Donkey? Shave brings so much joy to the role that it’s utterly infectious; rarely have I seen an actor so committed to a role.

Overall, my only complaint would be it’s just a bit too long.

There were a couple of tunes, that, in my humble opinion, could have been sliced off without sacrificing the essence of the story. But it’s hard to complain much about a show that bursts with clever lines, a brisk plot line, great music (the highlights are too many to mention, but standouts include Story of My Life, Don’t Let Me Go, What’s Up Duloc, I Know It’s Today, Travel Song, Morning Person, Make a Move, Freak Flag and the insightfully-titled Beautiful Ain’t Always Pretty.) Time and again, the songs and the performances that express them are the real gems of the show.

There is also a real dedication to the development of each and every character. This also speaks to the community of direction and instruction at RDC – Bradshaw has clearly brought out every bit of talent these young actors hold – there’s dancing, singing, loads of memorization and of course interpreting character. Vocal directors Sharon Braun and Val Sherman and vocal coach Danica Hoffart have also all done wonders with the vocal talents (again, there is varying quality here, but overall it’s well done).

As for the ‘live’ version, the original Broadway show opened around 2010.

Bradshaw had mentioned pre-show that the challenge for the actors was to find their characters in what has already been created. And to their credit, they’ve done that. The principles are certainly recognizable, but there’s a freshness and a newness to what they are offering as well.

“It’s still the same story, but it’s told a little differently,” Bradshaw had noted. Indeed. But thanks to the creative pooling of exceptional and growing talent amongst RDC theatre students, it has all come together in a solid family outing this holiday season.

For tickets, go to www.bkticketcentre.ca or by call 403-755-6626.

editor@reddeerexpress.com

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