Shrek the Musical (Studio East)

Posted on July 28, 2014

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Studio East's 17th Annual Summer Teen Musical, "Shrek the Musical".

Studio East’s 17th Annual Summer Teen Musical, “Shrek the Musical“.

Studio East kicks off summer with their 17th Annual Summer Teen Musical and all lights are green; ogre green and if opening night is any indication, Studio East’s “Shrek the Musical” is guaranteed entertainment for all ages. The talented cast had the audience eating from their hands and they were not serving up onions, but parfaits all the way, drawing repeated laughter throughout the performance. While Shrek may believe he is ‘crackpot magnet’, Studio East proves they are a talent magnet with its latest production “Shrek the Musical”, playing through August 3 at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center.

For those not familiar with the play, “Shrek the Musical” tells the story of an anti-social ogre named Shrek. Shrek’s normal routine is disrupted one day as his swamp home suddenly turns into a fairytale refugee camp, courtesy of a mandate from wicked Lord Farquaad. The mandate requires that all fairytale creatures be rounded up and confined to the swamp. To reclaim his home, Shrek, played by the gifted Christian Obert, must travel to Duloc and confront Lord Farquaad. Farquaad, played by the deliciously evil and brilliant Alex Ascanio agrees to hand over the deed to the land, if Shrek completes a task for him first. Ascanio, even walking on his knees, stands tall, nailing the role of villain to perfection, much to the conflicted joy of the audience. Along the way, Shrek meets his initially unwanted companion, Donkey, played by the irrepressible Keenan Barr. In Duloc, Farquaad convinces Shrek to rescue a princess for him in exchange for the deed to his home. In the end, Shrek gets more than he bargained for and his life is never the same the again.

Christian Obert continues his local theatrical domination with a spot-on portrayal of everyone’s favorite Scottish accented ogre, Shrek. Obert not only pulls off the accent, but gives a performance that even Mike Myers would be proud of. Obert, who has provided solid performances in prior Studio East shows such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd” leaves no doubts in “Shrek the Musical” that he has got what it takes to carry a full production lead role from beginning to end. His consistency throughout the production keeps the story moving forward. His vocal performance is strong and his chemistry with Barr’s Donkey is one of many highlights of the show.

(l-r) Sean Ben-Zvi as Fiona, Christian Obert as Shrek and Keenan Barr as Donkey
in Studio East’s “Shrek the Musical“.

Obert is joined by the effervescent Sean Ben-Zvi playing Princess Fiona, Shrek’s love interest. You may remember Ben-Zvi from her powerful performance as the Witch from “Into the Woods”. She faithfully brings to life the bubbly naïve optimism of Princess Fiona, to the point of even sounding like Cameron Diaz the voice actress in the original Shrek movie. Ben-Zvi brings a charm and strength to the role, which inspires the characters around her. One particularly endearing highlight occurs while she is in the tower which she has been locked in for many years. She, along with versions of herself as a child (Zoe Foster) and herself as a teenager (Emily Brooks), sings a trio ‘I Know it’s Today’, which speaks to her eternal hope that her Prince will finally arrive today. All three version of Fiona were amazing and each brought their own unique charms to the role.

If Obert is the strong foundation; Ben-Zvi the beauty and inspiration, then Keenan Barr is the spark of adrenalin that never lets the show slow down. Barr’s enthusiastic portrayal of the impulsive, quick witted Donkey was unmistakably an audience favorite. It was the role that he was born to play and Barr embraces the character of Donkey, bouncing between topics, pantomiming his actions and generally dancing his way into the audience’s heart. Milking the role for all it is worth, Barr plays to the audience throughout, never letting down in spite of what must have been a horrendously hot costume to wear while prancing around the stage. He strikes the ideal balance of being annoying enough to delight the audience without going too far and alienating them. Barr’s chemistry with Obert is palpable and you find yourself rooting them on in their quest.

Christian Obert as Shrek in Studio East's production of "Shrek the Musical".

Christian Obert as Shrek in Studio East’s
production of “Shrek the Musical“.

Like any opening night, the show experienced some minor mishaps, mainly related to costume malfunctions but nothing which took away from the audience’s enjoyment of the production. Studio East does an extraordinary job with this production across the board, from the elaborate costumes required for a large cast, the detailed choreography, direction and stage design, to the live orchestra and the little embellishments scattered throughout the performance. Special props go out to them in how they creative rendered the diminutive Lord Farquaad, the nod to Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’’s equine coconuts, the inspired Dragon costume which allowed Sonja Usher to truly shine with her performance of ‘Forever’ and ‘This is How a Dream Comes True’ and the memorable scene performed by the Duloc Performers ‘What’s up, Duloc?” all stand out.

In productions like this, one especially enjoys identifying performances of actors playing secondary characters who shine larger than their role. There were many in “Shrek the Musical”. One cannot miss the delightful performance of John Han as The Big Bad Wolf, Sonja Usher’s Dragon, Austin Morehouse’s Pig #1 and Caleb Anderson’s Papa Ogre, whose singing prowess impressed.

Studio East’s production of “Shrek the Musical” boasts not only a magical experience replete with an abundance of laughs for all ages, a positive message this generation needs to hear and a wonderfully diverse and talent cast and crew, but also delivers an amazing professional quality production for a local theater. Kudos to Director Lani Brockman and her team for over delivering the goods with a smart, imaginative and thoroughly endearing production of “Shrek the Musical”. Sadly there are only three more opportunities to see this production at The Kirkland Performing Arts Center (August 1, 2 and 3).

For more information about the show, check out Studio East’s website (http://studio-east.org/ ). The clock is ticking as the show only runs through August 3rd, at The Kirkland Performing Arts Center. Buy Tickets now at http://www.kpcenter.org/performances/shrek-the-musical

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