Review: “Shrek, the Musical” in Santa Rosa

‘Tis the season for family-friendly musicals and the SRJC Theatre Arts folks are first out of the gate with their production of Shrek, the Musical, running through December 2 at the Maria Carrillo High School Theatre. Yes, it just ran in July in Healdsburg and yes, a youth rep production is running simultaneously in Petaluma, but apparently audiences just can’t get enough of the big green ogre and his ass… er, donkey.

The book by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole, Good People (!)) pretty much adheres to the plot of the film. Shrek (Danny Bañales), content to live a solitary life after being sent out into the world by his parents at age 7, finds his swamp overrun by fairytale refugees from the Kingdom of Duloc by orders of the evil Lord Farquaad (Noah Sternhill.) Farquaad tells Shrek he’ll clear the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, et al. from the property if Shrek will retrieve Princess Fiona (Samantha Bohlke-Slater) for him. Shrek will do anything to get his swamp back, so he agrees. Along the way to the princess’s castle, he comes across a donkey named, appropriately enough, Donkey (Isiah Carter) and well, you know the rest. Songs will be sung and dances will be danced along the way until everyone (except the diminutive Farquaad) lives happily ever after.

The cast of “Shrek, the Musical”.

It’s a very colorful show with scenic designer Peter Crompton again getting a lot more on a cramped high school stage than would seem possible. It looks like costume designer Maryanne Scozzari had a field day costuming the characters, and lighting designer Theo Bridant adds some nice effects that bring the entire auditorium into the swamp.

Samantha Bohlke-Slater, Isiah Carter, Danny Bañales

Director Laura Downing-Lee’s youthful cast seems to be having a lot of fun with their characters. Bañales makes for a gruff and surly Shrek, but not so gruff and surly as to make his transformation into a loving beast by the end of the show unbelievable. Bohlke-Slater shows good comedic flair as Fiona as do Sternhill as the effete Farquaad and Michael Arbitter as an embittered Pinocchio. The breakout “star” from the original film was Donkey, and Carter’s a lot of fun as he gives the audience what they expect from the character and then some.

The show’s only weakness is with its vocals, which is somewhat understandable considering the environment we’re all breathing in these days. I attended the second show on a two-show day, and some of the voices were stretched a bit thin. One that wasn’t was that of Jackie Diaz, who voices the Dragon (via some nice puppetry work.) Her number with Donkey, “Forever”, was a musical highlight. The bulk of the audience at the show I attended was refreshingly young, and the kids couldn’t care less that some notes fell flat.

It is, after all, a show for the younger crowd, but there’s enough humor that will fly over their heads that should have the adult members of the audience chuckling. The show runs long – about two hours and 45 minutes with intermission – and while there are a couple of numbers that seemed extraneous, for the most part the show clips along.

A bonus for the kids is the opportunity to meet some of the characters after the show. For some, that alone was worth the price of admission.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

SRJC Theatre Arts presents ‘Shrek, the Musical’ through December 2 at Maria Carrillo High School Theatre, 6975 Montecito Blvd., Santa Rosa. Recommended for ages 6 and above. Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm; Saturday & Sunday, 1:30 pm; Thursday, Nov. 30, 7:30 pm. $12 – $22. 707.527.4307.

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