He’s big and he’s green. And his voice booms through “Shrek the Musical” at the Selma Arts Center.
For years, Daniel Sutherland has played supporting and featured roles in a multitude of productions at Good Company Players. It’s fun, then, to see him get the opportunity to tackle a starring role in Selma. Sutherland brings a gruff, whimsical likability to the ogre role, not to mention a certain relish when it comes to exuberant bouts of flatulence. He plays up the grumpiness of Shrek but has some nice moments wearing his heart on his green sleeve when it comes to romance.
Much of the rest of this spirited Selma production has that same, solid, community-theater feel, including Taylor Delgado’s sassy performance (and strong vocals) as Princess Fiona. The impressive makeup design, clever rented costumes and cheery local touches, such as the Dy.Nam.X dance group as the Rat Tappers, are fun elements. Plus there’s the highlight of the wacky Fairytale Characters, who romp through their numbers with an enthusiastic sense of ensemble.
You’d have to be an ogre living in a swamp with no Internet access to have missed the movie version of “Shrek,” of course, and this 2008 Broadway production is quite faithful to that film experience: plenty of giggles for the kids and more than a few jokes aimed at parents, too. Jeanine Tesori’s score and David Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics make it into a full-fledged musical, and Lindsay-Abaire’s book cleverly narrows the wide-open world of animation into the closer confines of a theater.
The storyline isn’t just silly, fractured fairy tales. A theme of celebrating differences resonates throughout, though not in a preachy way.
As Shrek and his faithful Donkey (a funny Adam Chavez) set off on a quest through the kingdom of Duloc, director Nicolette C. Andersen (who also designed the scenery) relies heavily on sliding panels of trees for scene transitions. (It’s a good concept in theory, but the execution falters a little.) The first destination is the castle of the notoriously short Lord Farquaad (a boisterous Bryan DeBaets).
The quest continues to rescue Princess Fiona from her tower, and we reach one of my favorite moments in “Shrek,” when the “three Fionas” representing her at different ages (Delgado, Mia Ramos and Noelle Robbins) come together for a touching trio in “I Know It’s Today.”
The encounter with the dragon that follows isn’t the strong point of this production, at least on opening night. (There were some major microphone problems.) And the dragon head itself, while large and impressive, feels a little disembodied.
There are some other weak spots as well:
▪ Andersen’s direction and the acting are a little mushy when it comes to the play’s comic timing. Much of the appeal of “Shrek” comes from its wry and crackling wit, along with some truly broad, goofy moments. Laugh situations and lines have to be carefully set up and then followed through. The belated introduction of Lord Farquaad, for example, landed with a thud.
▪ The staging and lighting at the end of the first act made it hard for the audience to recognize Fiona’s transformation.
▪ Sutherland makes a good Shrek, but he has room as an actor to add a sense of impishness to the role. That includes using his body and physicality more, especially because his face is so obscured because of the makeup.
▪ Having the largest cast possible in a community theater production can be a benefit because more people get to participate (and more audience members come to see them), but more of the ensemble roles should have been doubled in this production to give the stronger performers a chance to make more of an impact.
▪ David Esquivel’s lighting design is good for much of the show – and there are some impressive pyrotechnics – but there were also missed cues and a lack of sophisticated transitions between emotional moments and scenes.
▪ There’s an interesting effort, design-wise, to marry projections (by Dominic Grijalva), lighting and scenic design, but the execution needs to be more emphatic. Too often the results seem half-hearted.
Still, there are many moments in this “Shrek” that soar. My favorite number is the buoyant “Freak Flag,” in which the unruly Fairytale Characters get to shine. (Standouts include Caleb Robbins as Pinocchio, Cady Mejias as Gingy, and Brittany Roberts as the Wicked Witch.) It’s a highlight of the show: The spirit of the ensemble soars, Kendra Collins’ choreography sparkles, and I could imagine this motley crew storming out the theater and parading down High Street. That’s a sight I’d like to see in Selma.