The stage at the Julia Morgan Theater is shrouded in green light, ornamented by drooping forest trees and ominous swamp sounds. Guests are greeted by ogre-eared ushers and the rustling sounds of restless but excited children fidgeting in their booster seats as the lights dim and a pair of pajama-clad girls open to the first page of a hefty pop-up book.
As the final show of its 2013-14 season, Berkeley Playhouse Mainstage brings to life the neoclassic fairytale “Shrek the Musical,” a Tony Award-winning musical based on the 2001 DreamWorks film, “Shrek.”
The show brings all your favorite characters from the screen to the stage in a production geared toward parents and their young theater connoisseurs (complete with cheesy puns and far-from-dignified fart jokes.)
“Shrek the Musical” follows the plot of the first “Shrek” film, in which our heroic ogre (Tony Panighetti) and his annoyingly giddy Donkey (Brian Dauglash) try to win back his home swamp, which was overtaken by fairytale creatures who were banished from Duloc by the “short”-tempered Lord Farquaad (Clay David). To do so, the duo must rescue the spunky Princess Fiona (Chloe Condon) from the throes of a sassy and soulful dragon (Katrina McGraw).
Although the show hits the mark for its young target audience, many of the jokes geared toward the older crowd fell flat: While complaining about the constant upheaval and renovation taking place in Duloc and surrounding areas, Shrek laments, “This place is going all Walnut Creek!” eliciting huffs and pity chuckles from adults in the audience.
While both Panighetti and Condon have shaky starts when introduced as Shrek and Fiona, respectively, they instantly click when united for the first time in “This is How a Dream Comes True,” redeeming themselves from their rocky vocal prologues.
David tickled the audience as the show’s resident showboat, Lord Farquaad, with an overdramatic flair that matched his hilarity and comedic timing. With musical numbers that literally bring the performers to their knees, Farquaad’s small stature captivates the audience in a big way.
The production’s strongest suits lie in those who are often overlooked: the ensemble and the offstage stars.
The colorful fairytale ensemble of child, youth and professional actors, led by a quirky and newly confident Pinocchio (Max Thorne), lights up the swampy stage in show-stopping performances such as “Story of My Life,” that highlights the struggles of being an outsider, and “Freak Flag,” which embraces the importance of being unique.
Notable performances include Vanessa Vazquez as a surprisingly soulful Humpty Dumpty, and puppeteer Allison Meneley, who gives Gingy the gingerbread man his signature squeaky soprano while also playing the Sugar Plum Fairy.
But the standing ovation goes to scenic designer Robert Broadfoot and props designer Megan Lush, whose versatile and imaginative sets and props — including Farquaad’s pink, poster-clad palace bedroom, an explosive bluebird, a beheaded deer and Shrek’s silhouette-screen swamp abode — seamlessly straddle the line between functionality and creativity, making “Shrek the Musical” a visual adventure.
“Shrek the Musical” is the perfect family affair, with ogre ears available to purchase for the little ones to wear as Shrek and Donkey trudge up and down the theater aisle on their journey to free Fiona. The infectious and silly songs will leave you tapping your feet, but remember: It’s not ogre ’til the fat lady sings! So make sure to stick around for the finale performance of “I’m a Believer.”
“Shrek the Musical” runs until Aug. 3 at the Julia Morgan Theater on College Avenue.
Contact Rosemarie Alejandrino at [email protected].