Review: Shrek at Glyndon Area Players

TheatreBloom rating:

Things are looking up here, in Glyndon— just take a look! The things they’re cooking up here, in Glyndon— they like to cook! (theatrically, that is) A musical that amazes— a show with many phases! Bahm, bahm, bahm, bahm, bahm, oh, things are looking up here, in Glyndon! Late to the party, but they’re doing what love with their one-show conga line, the Glyndon Area Players proudly presents their 18th annual summer musical, Shrek. Directed by Homero Bayarena, Teresa Ertel, and Henry Cyr, with Musical Direction Jeff Morrison, this fun-loving family musical will have everyone waving a freak flag by the end of the show.

The fairytale ensemble of Shrek the Musical performing "Story of My Life"
The fairytale ensemble of Shrek the Musical performing “Story of My Life” Glyndon Area Players

A great big fairytale musical needs a bunch of great big fairytale scenery and GAP delivers for this production with their massive portable swamp, rolling stone castle, and revolving door dragon-guarded tower. Set Designer Michael Parks with Director Homero Bayarena discover endless enchantments among the varying scenes of Shrek. Their most accomplished and impressive piece of scenery is the fully-rotating tower designed in the style of a revolving door. With three decorated segments— each bearing a tally board of Fiona’s days trapped through the ages— it becomes the perfect vehicle of the song “I Know It’s Today” (a trio performed by the three stages of Fiona.) Bayarena and Parks create believable scenic pieces, like the outhouse that bursts open to reveal our title character, that truly create the magic of this fairytale.

Bayarena, who wears many hats in this production, including Costume Designer alongside Kari O’Donnell, furthers the magical endeavor with the multitude of colorful costumes that outfit the ensemble. While the principle characters are true to their iconic and recognizable form (particularly Shrek and Fiona, though Fiona’s traditional green dress takes on more of an olive and asparagus hue), the ensemble is packed with vibrant rainbows and clever costume concepts. Shimmery sparkles for the fairies, hip-hoops for the Tweedles, a sassy red dress with a lovely lady corset for the Big Bad Wolf; there could be an entire review written on the attention to detail and fantastical design work of each of the individual ensemble costumes. O’Donnell and Bayarena work together to put the GAP spin on some of the more traditional costumes, like giving Farquaad a deep burgundy velour ensemble for the second act, and putting an extra sheen on the polyester of the Duloc dancers.

The show’s natural party atmosphere is enhanced by Lighting Designer Jim Shomo.) Although at times a little overzealous in his attempt to showcase the many blinking, swirling, and strobing gobo light effects he has in his repertoire, Shomo’s light show does spruce up a great deal of the scenic development. The subtler effects are the true prizes worth noting. The slow swirling blue soap-bubble gobo during Farquaad’s bath, the meandering spin of the flame wheel gobo during the bridge of molten lava crossing, moments like these are just a few that really augment the aesthetic of various scenes. Blinking crazy rainbow lights happen every time we hit a major party moment as well, and the finale ultimo moment becomes a regular fairytale nightclub with Shomo’s effects.

Emilio Bayarena (left) as Pied Piper and Alyson Marks (right) as Princess Fiona performing "Morning Person"
Emilio Bayarena (left) as Pied Piper and Alyson Marks (right) as Princess Fiona performing “Morning Person” Glyndon Area Players

Choreography on the whole is average throughout the production. With the large number of ensemble dancers it becomes difficult to create big-scale dance routines among the impressive scenery for numbers like “Freak Flag” and “Story of My Life” but Choreographer Maia DeBaugh does her best. The truly radiant number, which makes up for the limited dancing in the rest of the show, is the extensive and intensive tap routine performed during “Morning Person.” Featuring Fiona (Alyson Marks) the Pied Piper (Emilio Bayarena) and seven spectacular Rat Tappers (Libby Burgess, Donna Feher-Hesen, Clara Garcia, Mary Morency, Megan O’Donnell, Emily Pulling, and Emily Signor), the number is charged with energetic tap routines that grow with complexity as the number progresses. This include the Rat-Tappers tapping in furry rat-covered taps, a progressive window line, wings, and some flashy jazzy slide-taps as well.

Putting the GAP signature on a production that’s been done by every other theatre in town is what Directors Bayarena, Teresa Ertel, and Henry Cyr do best. Little moments like the amusing princess elimination during the announcement of discovering Fiona, and the subtle ad-libs that Donkey finds during his journey with Shrek are what makes the performance unique to GAP. They even give the green Pinoccio-Cosette Freak Flag (a nod to the original Broadway production) to Jacob Oland, who played the flag-waving revolutionary Enjolras in last summer’s production of Les Miserables. Little inside nods to their own production history as well as other pop cultural references helps the company to ‘let it go’ when it comes to worrying about everyone else having previously done the show they’re currently doing.

Xavier Brebnor (left) as Donkey with Ellen Manuel (right) as Dragon (puppeted by The Ertel Family)
Xavier Brebnor (left) as Donkey with Ellen Manuel (right) as Dragon (puppeted by The Ertel Family) Glyndon Area Players

Bayarena, Ertel, and Cyr make profound directorial choices in addition to the little touches and smatterings of nuance throughout the production. It is a constant point of debate and discussion about having the actress who plays the dragon on-stage when a large puppet is employed. The directorial trio justify this choice to present the lovely Ellen Manuel on stage with the gargantuan flying and gorgeously authentic Dragon Puppet (mastered and moved by Donald, Ava, Lily, Corinne, and Teresa Ertel) by making her the mistress of the dragon. Through simple gestures and facial expressions, Manuel becomes a sorceress or an enchantress where the massive dragon puppet is her spirited familiar or conjured protector and this reads in such a beautiful fashion that you never once feel the need to question why the actress is on stage singing for the puppet. It’s a remarkable approach to this dilemma and is a rewarding experience to witness.

While the pacing of the show errs a little on the longer side (sometimes all the fairytale magic in the world can’t enchant those set changes to move fast enough) the show never falters in its energy. The directorial trio ensures that ensemble numbers, solos, and other fun scenes keep their pacing and the interest of the audience. This notion, despite those pesky scene changes and the occasional bumpy transition, is what keeps the show on an enjoyable track from beginning to end. Everyone finds their niche in this production, which is a compliment to the theatre company and the directorial staff. No one in the ensemble feels as if they are merely in the ensemble for the sake of being in the show. With individualized costumes and clever ways to create identities of the fairytale creatures— like giving each of the Three Pigs (Jacob Oland, Orlando Davis, Dan Hamman) their own accent and background— everyone feels like they fit and this makes for an exceptional community theatre experience.

Henry Cyr (left) as The Big Bad Wolf and Willem Rogers (right) as Pinoccio singing "Freak Flag" in Shrek The Musical
Henry Cyr (left) as The Big Bad Wolf and Willem Rogers (right) as Pinoccio singing “Freak Flag” in Shrek The Musical Glyndon Area Players

Pinocchio (Willem Rogers) and Sugar Plum Fairy (Mary Morency) have unique moments in the show that make them stand out. Both Rogers and Morency find distinctively appropriate character voices to make the wooden-wannabe boy and Russian figment (who later doubles as the sassy Gingy) really shine among the dozens of fairytale creatures tossed into the swamp. Rogers and Morency, who lead “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag” respectively, carry those character voices through these numbers and deliver fully energized renditions of these powerful group songs. Rogers even finds a tender moment of earnest truth just before Morency leads the ensemble through “Freak Flag” when he says “…if only I’d been a real boy…”, a breath, a pause, an acknowledgement and a great deal of emotion resonate in that moment.

With a fiery voice, Ellen Manuel (who briefly cameos as Humpty Dumpty, even earning herself a solo line in “Freak Flag”) plays Dragon with a flaming inferno of passion. “Forever” is a ferocious solo that burns through the auditorium with scalding intensity. Manuel really owns the new role of being an enchantress, a subtle touch of her hand or gesture with her arm controlling the dragon and making them two individual creatures while simultaneously being one entity. Keep your ears open for her extreme belt and sustain toward the end of this solo, it’s very impressive.

Homero Bayarena as Lord Farquaad (center) and the Duloc Dancers in Shrek the Musical
Homero Bayarena as Lord Farquaad (center) and the Duloc Dancers in Shrek the Musical Glyndon Area Players

Every fairytale has a nasty bad guy, and Shrek has Lord Farquaad (Homero Bayarena.) As if he weren’t wearing enough hats in this production, Bayarena throws himself into the cast as the big bad villain. With a flamboyant and foppish approach to the character, Bayarena ekes out the comedy in this knave and throws a nod to the movie voice actor John Lithgow with his long, drawn-out Shatner-esque pauses (made hilarious because of Lithgow’s sitcom where Shatner was often a guest star.) With a horrifying sneer and heavily painted face, there’s more than just his funny little hat that strikes fear into the hearts of fairytale creatures.

Bringing a pop-in-fresh approach to Donkey, Xavier Brebnor makes the furry creature’s signature sound a patented yodel-giggle that reminds us of a certain baking icon. Zany in the brain with energy for miles, Brebnor hams up the role and hoofs it through the show with an unyielding sense of friendly intrigue. Showboating his way through “Make a Move” and “You Need Me”  Getting his gritty groove on for “Make a Move,” there are splits and spins and animated body gestures that prove nothing can keep this donkey down. Going ‘Marvin Gaye’ for interlude segment of “Forever” showcases his stylistic ability and adds a layer of soul to his tremendous vocal talent.

Alyson Marks as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical
Alyson Marks as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical Glyndon Area Players

This princess may still be waiting, but Alyson Marks isn’t waiting to show off what a perfect Fiona she can be. Belting her way through “I Know it’s Today”, with verve, determination, and desperation, Marks establishes early on the struggle and strife of this princess’ life. Going toe to toe with Shrek (Tom Zepp) in “I Think I Got You Beat,” she holds her own when it comes to the mimed-timing of burbs and farts featured in this number. But it’s “Morning Person” that showcases her vocal prowess, particularly when she faces off with the Bird (which literally pops and explodes) for the first verse of the song. A celebrated singer and true princess no matter what curse is laid upon her, Marks delivers fairytale realness in this role.

Tom Zepp as Shrek
Tom Zepp as Shrek Glyndon Area Players

He’s gonna build a wall, and make it ten feet high! Tom Zepp is the perfect guy, for Shrek that is. With a bolstering angry voice that constantly represents the frustrations buried deep within the innumerable layers of the less-than-jolly green ogre, Zepp foregoes the intense Scottish accent in favor of subtle hints at the character’s background. Delivering stirring emotional renditions of “When Words Fail” and “Who I’d Be” Zepp uncovers the rich pathos the lyrics intend for these numbers. Leading the rock-guitar rendition of “I’m a Believer” from high atop his swamp castle tower, Zepp brings the show to a close with a great burst of energy.

Bring your own freak flag and let it wave, you’re bound to enjoy all of the incredible little things that GAP is doing to make this production one of their own.  

Running Time: 3 hours with one intermission

Shrek plays through August 16, 2015 at the Glyndon Area Players in the Sacred Heart School Auditorium— 63 Sacred Heart Lane in Glyndon, MD. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.

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