photo: Joan Marcus
I wanted to see the Broadway musical of Shrek with a non-industry, paying audience before writing about it, and now that I have, I can say with confidence that it's an audience pleaser. (At least it is with this original cast - all bets are off next Fall if/when some of these principals are replaced.) Though the sets and costumes look no-expense-spared and the orchestra is sufficiently staffed so that it actually sounds like one, the show's real bang for the buck is delivered by the abundance of personality and winning appeal of the performers. Even an audience who's never heard of Sutton Foster quickly knows they are watching a genuine modern-day musical comedy star - the girlish-goofy physicality in her performance as Princess Fiona warms the house and puts everyone at ease. Brian D'Arcy James, unrecognizably skull-capped, ogre-eared and tinted green, brings the right amount of heart as Shrek and keeps the character from being, well, just a cartoon. Daniel Breaker, as his sidekick Donkey, avoids the road marked "Created By Eddie Murphy" and spins his every bit into a solid laugh, whether funny on the page or not. And Christopher Sieber, amusingly on his knees nearly all night to create the illusion that he's dwarfed, hams it up deliciously as the story's villain Prince. Supporting cast are all terrific top to bottom, especially in the energetic, sometimes witty dance numbers. The book is fine for what it is - it has the same jokey spirit as the Shrek movies, and although some have faulted its lapses into bathroom humor, I don't see any reason why a family-friendly comedy like this one shouldn't make some concessions to the pre-teen boys in the audience. The big downside of the show is that its score continually lets it down - unlike Billy Elliot, which triumphs despite a merely serviceable score, the substandard and rarely funny songs in Shrek put a drag on the show and prevent it from adding up to more than the sum of its parts.