Story of my life! Another Shrekin’ show! Seen ‘em all before— but this one you should know— they’re brought the makin’ the story of their life, oh yeah! You should go out and see Shrek, yes sir! That’s— the story— of this— taaaaale. Shrek! If you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all, you may have even seen this exact Shrek & Donkey combo before, but Dundalk Community Theatre already knew that and really stepped up their game to reimagine, reinvent, and reinvigorate the tired old ogre’s musical, making it exciting and new so that people would relish in finding the joy and delight of the production. With the exceptional John Desmone at the Directorial helm and the unofficial Musical Director in residence, Nathan Christopher Scavilla guiding the pit along, this Shrek is one for the storybooks.
DCT always dreamed they’d get a happy ending, and this right here— exactly how it goes. With a pretty impressive design team working together to enhance the whimsical aesthetic, all the nuances of the fairytale production came to fantastical fruition without any shattered dreams or bowls of porridge turned upside anybody’s head. Costume Designer Tracy Bird (of Stage Garb Inc.,) coordinated a plethora of unique and simultaneously textbook looks when it came to outfitting the company. These fit perfectly alongside the Scenic Backdrops provided by Kenmark Scenic Backdrops. Marc W. Smith, as the triple-crown designer of Lights, Sound, and Set, tied the whole shebang together with appropriately devised design work, fitting the fairytale feel of the show fantastically.
The upshot may be enormous when Farquaad shouts conformist, but Choreographer Vincent Musgrave has other plans for the dance routines of the show. While the uniformity and overall cleanliness of a tightly ran choreographic ship is well recognizable, Musgrave ventures into true musical theatrical homage territory and manages to get a few subtle nods to other great dance-musicals into his routines. Utilizing the ensemble with form in mind rather than function, Musgrave’s choreography is clean and energetic. Using dance to augment the emotional expression of the songs, like the embittered jazz hands featured during “Story of My Life”, Musgrave makes a solid connection between feelings and dance routines for the cast. He also finds unique places to add some dancer’s motion to bits that would ordinarily be bereft of dancing, like “Ballad of Farquaad”, which features the male guards pumping dumbbells to a jaunty and upbeat routine. The tap routine, led by Princess Fiona, during “Morning Person” is top notch as well, with clean and simple enthusiastic movements.
What makes him special— his empowering ability to take an oversaturated musical and put a brand spanking new enthusiastic spin on it— makes him strong! That would be Director John Desmone who has outdone himself with cultivating little moments liberally throughout the production, which hone in on the honest story that lays beneath the fairytale fluff of the piece. The little reactions witnessed between Shrek and Fiona as their chemistry begins to grow, the little emotional bubbles that Desmone captures in these moments, unearths the honest heart of the story and give it that happy-ending-heartstrings-tug that makes it truly magical.
There are also little moments of brilliant humor laced into the heartfelt directorial work that Desmone provides, like consistently having the Three Blind Mice (Lacy Comstock, Emily Morgan, Sydney Phips, who shake it up something fierce during “Make a Move”) pointed in wayward directions or the Disney Princess backpack for when young Fiona is sent away. Splitting the role of “Walter” into Farquaad’s Fools, played aptly and hysterically by Michael Maistros and Matthew Wolffe, adds an additional layer of hilarity to the nonsense already happening in the production. These are just a few of the numerous thins that Desmone incorporates into the production to make it uniquely DCT’s.
How do you solve a problem like the dragon? Desmone’s got that handled too. Putting the focus on the puppet while it’s on stage, Desmone creates two wings and a tail with glorious sentience (listed as Dragonettes, and ironically enough— the same trio of lovely ladies playing the three blind mice!) This gives the larger than live mobile mythical creature a magical and ethereal property as these Dragonette puppeteers sweep and swoop Donkey about the stage giving the puppet an extra burst of life. Keeping the voice of the Dragon (the exceptionally talented belttress Lisa Pastella) off-stage allows the focus of the audience to fall squarely on the mighty puppet. Pastella, who could easily go toe-to-toe with any of the modern day Broadway beltresses, blasts her solo “Forever” with intense ferocity, making the Dragon that much more powerful and impressive to behold.
The ensemble is spirited. Under the musical direction of Nathan Christopher Scavilla, all of the group numbers echo with vigorous gusto and fill the house with the joy and celebration that such a fun musical is meant to exhibit. Even the bitter, albeit hilarious, number “Story of My Life” has a huge sound swelling from the fairytale creatures, with spot-on harmonies well-articulated in the final phrasing of the song. Scavilla does a solid job of keeping the pit with the performers and the performers with the pit. With a series of standout performers strengthening the core of this ensemble— like the sassy and sensational Mark Lloyd as the Big Bad Wolf, Laura May as the Ugly Duckling, and Diane Maistros as Humpty Dumpty (all of whom get little pops to shine during either “Freak Flag” or “Story of My Life”) it’s no wonder that the ensemble is so impressive.
Pinocchio (Josh Schoff) has a vocal affectation going on that’s as ridiculous as his nose. Schoff rolls his uniquely affected sound through both “Story of My Life” and “Freak Flag”, with the former being his breakout number. Veronica Lockett, playing both the Sugar Plum Fairy and Gingy, puts her bold and boisterous sound to the test for “Freak Flag”, leading the show-stopping number with every ounce of enthusiasm she can muster. Though not possessing affected vocalizations, both Young Fiona (Juliet Jones) and Teen Fiona (Anna Adelstein) are lovely vocal additions to the cast. Their three-part harmony with Fiona during “I Know It’s Today” is delightful.
The fancy and ever-so-slightly flamboyant Lord Farquaad (Peter N. Crews) is just too funny for words. Keeping pacing with the visual gimmick that keeps men of his stature in short supply, Crews navigates the trickery of the cloak-n-cape quite soundly. His little reactions and responses to certain lines and situations are what add a punch of panache to the otherwise diminutive character. Crews possesses a strong singing voice, which he displays proudly for “What’s Up Duloc?” and “Ballad of Farquaad.” Pristinely prepared for every situation from the workout scene to his wedding— which includes a guest cameo appearance by the legendary Dave Guy, Baltimore’s long-standing veteran of the stage as ‘the Bishop’— Crews handles the character with flagrant flare.
Together again for the first time, they’ve only met in a dream— a dream where Dickie Mahoney and Gary Dieter played Shrek and Donkey— and together they crossed a bridge, saved a princess, and so much more. No fairytales here, it’s reality that the DCT production has brought this well-oiled comic machine back together, both reprising their leading roles some years later. Both Mahoney and Dieter are so well versed in the character nuances and open opportunities for improvisation which these tracks provide, that the show could aptly be renamed Dickie & Gary’s big green adventure. Playing off one another with an indescribably familiarity this comedic duo of hysterical characters milks all the appropriate moments for every laugh they are worth while balancing these sheer shenanigans with sincerity that easily brings a tear to the eye.
Mahoney’s hearty voice is incomparable when it comes to the titular character. Blasting through the opening number, “Big Beautiful World”, he sets the tone early on for exactly how incredible he intends to be for the performance’s entirety. Going to Funkytown with his one-man dance party during this number, he’s big, bold, and boisterous. Displaying a striking versatility, Mahoney opens up a softer side— exposing the many layers of Shrek— during “When Words Fail” and again with impassioned anger that brings a proper tear to the eye for “Build a Wall.” Playing with an honesty that accompanies his emotional versatility, “Who I’d Be” becomes a truly striking trio number and drives home one of the larger underlying messages of the show.
Dieter is a hot mess in the most hilarious sense as the wonky donkey who just won’t quit. With a musical theatre voice for miles, there’s no question that Dieter is the right vocal selection for the role, but it’s his show-stopping antics when it comes to improving and goofing off as the fabulous furry character that gives him the honor of show’s funniest feature. Localizing references, callbacks, and modern jokes, Dieter is taking everyone in the audience along for a wild ride and will have you laughing so hard that you’ll be out of breath and crying all at once. Too funny for words between his shtick, his nonsense, and his dancing during “Make a Move”, Dieter is running away with the show on his hooves.
But wait! At the top of the musical— thanks to rewrites when the rights for were released— there’s now an absurd bit about Fiona coming in to explain that the show should be “Fiona: The Musical.” Sherry Benedek basically makes this scene out to be the gospel truth when it comes to her performance in the show. Holding her own against the fiercely talented and well-practiced team of Dieter and Mahoney, Benedek is a stunning sensation with powerhouse vocals that will not quit. Not only does she have a belting blast of a voice that’s ready to sing the walls of Duloc, Dundalk, and the whole of Charm City to the ground, but her attitude is phenomenal. Balancing comedy with sincerity, she finds unique ways to play with the character while making her uniquely her own. “Morning Person” is a scream much like “This is How a Dream Comes True” which features Benedek channeling an inferno of fury into how she believes her fairytale should go. Pairing off with Dieter and Mahoney for several numbers, but especially the “Finale” and “I’m a Believer”, which features the entire company in all of their energetic glory, Benedek is the perfect addition to the triangle of perfection in the principal roles category.
Be sure to wave your freak flag all the way down to Dundalk Community Theatre to see this revitalized production of Shrek the musical. The message is solid, the talent is sturdy, and you’ll have a swamptastic time.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Shrek plays through May 5, 2017 at Dundalk Community Theatre on the main stage of the John E. Ravekes Theatre in the College Community Center of the CCBC Dundalk campus— 7200 Sollers Point Road in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (443) 840-2787 or purchase them online.