‘Shrek’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

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Once upon a time there was a little place called Toby’s Dinner Theatre that was nestled in the wooded highlands of Columbia, Maryland. And during their 35th year they decided to mount a little musical called Shrek. It was a pretty impressive musical, with Music by Jeanine Tesori and Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay Abaire. Fairytales, well you’ve never heard or seen one quite like this, but there’s a freak flag to wave for everyone at this up-tempo, energetic, entertaining family friendly show; and it’s one magical event that you won’t want to miss! Directed by Lawrence B. Munsey and Kevin McAllister, with Musical Direction by Douglas Lawler and Pamela Wilt, this crazy fun musical will make a believer out of everyone in attendance!

The Fairytale Ensemble of Shrek the Musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre. Kirsten Christiansen
The Fairytale Ensemble of Shrek the Musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.

Given the spatial arrangement of Toby’s, a complex and intricately designed Fairytale setting seems nearly impossible. But that did not stop the talented creativity of Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins from creating magnificent magic. From the life-size storybooks that introduce the very first characters of the show to the intricately detailed tower where for 20 years Princess Fiona sat and waited, Hopkins’ design imbues a sense of classical whimsy into the modern story.

Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin furthers Hopkins’ designs with her own magically enchanting approach to the show. With bright red and blue lights to match the color-scheme of Duloc and green light baths for moments meant to be owned by the ogres, Joslin makes each moment lively and unique really playing up the spectacle that makes this show spectacular. The most impressive feat of note in Joslin’s design is the fiery red lights featured under the bridge of the dragon’s keep. Blinking on and off they create an authentic sense of trepidation while also crafting the illusion of moving lava.

Costume Designers Lawrence B. Munsey and Janine Sunday complete the magical trifecta of production design with their impressive threads. Munsey’s signature flare of sparkles and glitter can be witnessed throughout the entire production, capturing the epitome of fairytale essence in each shimmering costume. His penchant for the full Technicolor spectrum is easily displayed in the wide array of storybook creature costumes. The shiny blue and red vinyl costumes for the denizens of Duloc are an homage to both the original Broadway production and to the movie; the crisscrossed guards’ uniform of the same color just further the hilarity of the ‘conformist’ notions of the town. The attention to detail— from the scorch marks on the knights’ uniforms in the dragon’s keep to the way Farquaad’s headband is studded with miner’s gems— is impeccable. Keep an eye out for the extremely glamorous outfits bestowed upon Lord Farquaad because if they sparkled with any brighter of a dazzling gleam the audience might just go blind.

The pacing of the show in general falls a bit on the uneven side of things; in places it feels too rushed with scenes and lines flying by not giving jokes and witty one-liners a chance to land and fully impact the audience. In other places there are pauses that feel unnatural and unbalanced. These imbalances seem to fall primarily in the first act of the show while the second act tends to settle into a bit more even of a routine; the final three numbers surging with such a fulfilling energy that you hardly remember the cadence issues from the start of the show. Overall the character’s individual performances are what keep the show really on its feet and keep the audiences enjoying themselves as they witness this modern fairytale.

Pinocchio (Shane McCauley) becomes the poster-child for these ‘fairytale freaks’ as the show progresses. McCauley’s clear character choice an commitment to the falsetto vocals adds a layer of humor to his existence and when he leads the ensemble in “Story of My Life” it really draws in the attention of the audience. Other notable performers in the ensemble include Ariel Messeca who spends a great deal of his time on stage as the Captain of the Duloc Guard, his swift and roguish nature making him just a bit intimidating. David Jennings is another performer to watch as he embodies the role of the Pied Piper giving the most impressive dance routine of the show with his sensational tap performance during “Morning Person.”

The voice you won’t be able to ignore is that of Toby’s veteran Heather Beck. Playing the iconic Gingy, among half a dozen other characters, Beck takes on a hilarious persona as the sugary sentient with her outrageous vocals creating absolute uproarious moments of humor throughout the production. Leading the ensemble for the biggest empowerment number in the show, Beck belts out across the top and bottom of her range for “Freak Flag” driving the number home with punch of panache and pizzazz that will have you seeing stars before the song is over. Keep your ears tuned in that number for featured solos arising from the Ugly Duckling (MaryKate Brouillet) belting out a crystal clear sound at the top of her lungs as well.

Bellowing belts just as powerfully is the talented Ashley Johnson playing the voice of Dragon. While she’s only ever seen on stage as Mama Bear— playing up the hilarity of her distressing moments in “Story of My Life”— Johnson’s voice is smashing as it shakes down the house in “Forever.” A siren’s voice with sass and pitch perfection, Johnson lets the world know loud and clear that Dragon is the boss in her solo number; a fiery blend of belts and sustained notes that brings the audience to tumultuous applause when she’s through. Her range is fully expressed when Johnson is featured as the chirping bird in “Morning Person,” an impressive feat hitting those high notes.

Shrek (Russell Sunday), Donkey (Calvin McCullough), and Princess Fiona (Coby Kay Callahan).Kirstine Christiansen
Shrek (Russell Sunday), Donkey (Calvin McCullough), and Princess Fiona (Coby Kay Callahan).

Naturally it would take a whole lot of man, or in this case a whole lot of fur, to quell the tremendous power of such a ferocious beast. So when Donkey (Calvin McCullough) starts in on Dragon at the end of “Forever” hilarity ensues as an inadvertent romantic endeavor unfolds. McCullough brings a vivacious personality to the character of Donkey, living up his spastic moments to further the comic ventures of the show. His facial responses to the flatulence duel during “I Think I Got You Beat” are priceless. It’s McCullough’s strong and smooth vocals, featured in solos like “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Make a Move” that really showcase his impressive talent.

McCullough, blending with the voices of Shrek (Russell Sunday) and Princess Fiona (Coby Kay Callahan), creates a solid ending to the first act during “Who I’d Be.” Sunday, as the title character, really comes into his own as the fierce ogre as he discovers pent up emotions for his solo “Build a Wall.” The trio again brings strong harmonies to the finale, heightening their overall energy to bring the show to a solid conclusion.

Callahan, as the bratty and sassy unconventional princess is a knockout in the role. Her tremendous vocal prowess never wavers and blends to sublime perfection during “I Know It’s Today” a trio piece featuring Teen Fiona (Amanda Kaplan) and Young Fiona (at this performance—Samantha Yakaitis.) Kaplan and Yakaitis show exceptional vocal talent as well in this number, belting with equal force and blending into the complex harmonies with ease. Callahan plays up the campy nature of the character and defines the comedy of the peculiar princess with her zesty zingers and her quick quips. Both “Morning Person” and its Reprise showcase Callahan’s versatility as a singer and her natural ability to bring a lighthearted air of fun to the character. Owning the pushy princess, Callahan’s stage presence is exceptional and she creates a vibrancy during all of her interactions with other characters.

Jeffrey Shankle as Lord Farquaad. Kirstine Christiansen
Jeffrey Shankle as Lord Farquaad.

Running away with the show on tails of his way too shimmery capes is the nefariously nasty Lord Farquaad (Jeffrey Shankle.) Stealing the show with his uproariously hysterical shenanigans, Shankle turns all eyes on him not simply because he’s all of two-feet tall but because he’s blasting the audience with comic punch after comic punch, landing jokes after joke with the epitome of comic timing and playing the character at the height of his theatrical capability. Whether it’s his flagitious sniggering or his dastardly demeanor when terrorizing Gingy, Shankle has full commitment to this ridiculous little man with a stature complex. Blasting the audience out of the water with his phenomenal vocals, Shankle dazzles the audience during “What’s Up, Duloc?” and finds the perfect balance between comedy and singing during “Ballad of Farquaad.” A true performance sensation; Shankle makes the show a proper comedy with each of his antics right up through the very end.

So grab your freak flag, let it wave loud and proud and be sure to catch Shrek before the end of this fairytale comes around.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Shrek plays through June 22, 2014 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.


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