Theater Review: 'Shrek the Musical' on Broadway

Brian d'Arcy James plays the ogre in the new stage musical.
Brian d'Arcy James plays the ogre in the new stage musical. (By Joan Marcus -- Boneau/bryan-brown Via Associated Press)
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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 15, 2008



So, Shrekkie baby, how's it shakin'? Listen, kiddo, I caught the new Broadway show about you, what's it called? I got it in my notes here: Oh yeah. "Shrek the Musical."

As your former agent, I may be a little bitter -- how could I have known that snooze-a-thon "Shrek the Third" would tarnish the franchise? But Shrekster, buddy, allow me to ask the question:

What the heck happened?

I mean, I'm impressed with the beaucoup bucks Dreamworks shelled out for this stage behemoth. Geez, you could take that giant eye-batting dragon that shows up halfway through Act 1 and make it the centerpiece of a theme park! Still, Shrekeleh, what the director, Jason Moore, and the songwriters, Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, are dishing out for the public at the Broadway Theatre is, if you don't mind my saying, a great big ball of cheese. And not just because of the repeated ways the characters find to cut it.

Can I one-man focus-group it for you? Forget your natural scent -- the whole shebang smells. I'm talking desperate. Since when did Donkey go all cutesy chorus boy? Then Lord Farquaad: Can they do the "Look how short I am!" gag like another 70 times? And that climactic Act 2 production number, "Freak Flag," where all the fairy-tale characters sing how about proud they are to be different? "Hairspray" called; they want their theme back!

So please, could you tell me how this half-baked romp got the, er, green light? Broadway's been doing the mega-budget family entertainment thing since Disney came to town back in '94 with "Beauty and the Beast." So how come after all these tries it's still so hard to get it right? (And spare me the "tourists will buy anything with a brand name" argument.) Sure, I see why Lindsay-Abaire, the book writer, went back to the story in the first movie for the stage musical. It's Shrek genesis. You know what, though? It's also a pretty bare-bones fairy tale, stretched to 2 hours. Turns out you do need some super-sparkling work from the digital design guys to make you beguiling.

No offense.

S-man: you gotta grant me that looks-wise, ogres fare better in cartoons. The actor they've got playing you, Brian d'Arcy James . . . well, something's off. In all that lumpy, celery-colored latex, he not only looks uncomfortable, but also more like the Hulk after a month of Doritos. He does sing appealingly, in that virile baritone (even if his numbers all sound the same). Sutton Foster, portraying the love of your life -- how is Princess Fiona, btw? -- does a better job communicating the mischievous spirit of the movies; I did crack up at her delivery of "Morning Person," the song with the show's best gags, which include the chorus of tapping rats.

Well, that's my two cents. I'll probably fork over a bit more than that for tickets for my nieces. What do they know? They're at that age, they like fart jokes.

I'd say let's do lunch, but I couldn't look at another plate of grubs.


Shrek the Musical, book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesori. Directed by Jason Moore. Choreography, Josh Prince; sets and costumes, Tim Hatley; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; sound, Peter Hylenski; hair and wigs, David Brian Brown; makeup, Naomi Donne; orchestration, Danny Troob; music direction, Tim Weil. With John Tartaglia, Daniel Breaker, Christopher Sieber, Haven Burton. About 2 ½ hours. At Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway. Call 800-432-7250 or visit

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