Do we really need a musicalized version of the animated movie about a prickly ogre and his overly enthused sidekick donkey? Yes, we do.
“Shrek the Musical” is utterly joyous. And although it has played in our area more than a few times (including a 2013 production by 3–D Theatricals), it has neither aged nor lost its relevance.
Can this show be enjoyed on many levels? Yes, it can.
It’s a lighthearted fairy tale. It’s a tender love story. It’s also about finding our inner beauty, and about finding strength in being “different.” It’s also a cautionary tale for parents about taking good care of our children.
And its subplot centers on a narcissist, obsessed with size, who wants to be king just for the cool of it and without regard for making his kingdom healthy and safe.
Among the show’s chief joys are the spirited, Motown-infused tunes, by Jeanine Tesori, and the stirring, punny lyrics, by David Lindsay-Abaire.
3–D Theatricals takes it on again, this time at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts under David F.M. Vaughn’s direction. Its visuals are spectacular, using Tim Hatley’s original Broadway costuming, so the characters come to fully fleshed life.
Tom Buderwitz’s cheerful scenic design, enhanced by Jean-Yves Tessier’s mood-setting lighting, flies on and off stage swiftly and silently, undoubtedly thanks to an adept tech crew.
All this outer beauty makes the theater-going fun. But, as “Shrek” reminds us, what’s inside may count more. 3–D Theatricals cast quite a few of its eponymous D’s, and each one is delightfully charming.
As Shrek, T.J. Dawson brings to life one of the great animated characters of all time. Not only is this green ogre’s heart in the right place, but he also creeps into ours. This Dawson bears the weight and retained heat of full-body prosthetics yet appears as light on his feet as any animator could draw him, and his characterization is rich and lively.
Jeanette Dawson is adorable and more than a little inspiring as Princess Fiona. Despite Fiona’s circumstances, she’s optimistic, decisive, but open to life’s possibilities. This Dawson’s inner light bursts from the stage and glows lovingly over the audience.
With discipline and confidence, young Jude Dawson takes the stage as Young Shrek, then later appears as a character best left a surprise.
And as this show’s unforgettable villain, Daniel Dawson plays Lord Farquaad. This Dawson plays the diminutive figure, the actor on his knees with Hatley’s little false legs reaching the floor, leading to nonstop hilarity, not least of which comes during choreographer Leslie Stevens’ splashy Broadway-style numbers for him. The actor’s crisp enunciation, wry delivery, wicked smile and apparently well-versed understanding of a narcissist make for bits of stage business we wish would never end.
Even among the score’s highlights, one song stands out for likewise making us wish it would never end. “I Know It’s Today” introduces us to Fiona, first as a child (sweetly voiced Sloane Adams), then as a teen (surprisingly proficient Noelle Lidyoff) and then as the adult princess.
Adam Mantell heads the ensemble of fairy-tale figures. He plays Pinocchio with the deceptively loose-limbed physicality of a young Buddy Ebsen, his Pinocchio finally stirring his fellow oddball characters to proudly fly their “Freak Flag” in the show’s timeless anthem to living in peaceful strength outside societal norms.
Of course there’s no “Shrek” without Donkey. Cornelius Jones Jr. plays him — a terrific performer, brightening Donkey’s already bright songs, nailing his 1960s-style dances. But there’s more to Donkey than just the laughs.
Near the show’s end, Donkey finally stands up to Shrek. Then comes a rare moment of silence. And we see, underneath the makeup, below the fuzzy costume and floppy ears, Jones’ eyes. They’re subtly, poignantly, expressive. His little donkey heart and our full human ones wait, hoping for a sign of friendship from the big green ogre we all care so much about.
This show is definitely not for children who cannot sit quietly for a nearly three-hour stretch. And adults who can’t “hold it” for at least 90 minutes might want to secure tickets near an exit.
But those of us who sit through it (and then possibly stand to sing and dance during the jubilant last number) will be reminded that all of us should cherish our own beauty, whatever the color — or texture — of our outer layer.
Waffles not included.
Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based writer.
‘Shrek the Musical’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22; 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25
Where: Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos (ample free parking adjacent to the theater)
Tickets: $40-$85 plus processing fee (student and group discounts available)
Length: 2 hours and 50 minutes, including intermission
Suitability: Ages 8 and up
Information: 714-589-2770, 3dtshows.org