Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries
New York critics weren't wild about the 2008 stage incarnation of "Shrek the Musical." But, outside of "The Lion King," theater critics have pretty much walled off their hearts to popular film cartoons being made into high-priced, Great White Way entertainment. Then again, it's a tricky business to turn the intricately animated into singing and dancing flesh-and-blood. Now "Shrek the Musical" arrives at Robinson Center Music Hall thanks to a non-equity tour diverted to Little Rock by Celebrity Attractions. Directed on Broadway by Arkansas native Jason Moore, "Shrek" has undergone changes and songs have been added and cut (book and lyrics are by David Lindsay-Abaire and music is by Jeanine Tesori), but it's still a musical that very much resembles the 2001 Dreamworks movie. On stage, "Shrek" is funny and involving — like the movie, it's aimed at tickling adults and children. The cracked fairy tale story of an ogre and a princess with a secret doesn't take itself too seriously or smother the audience in winks. There are sections that simply don't translate on stage but they pass pretty quickly. That's good because "Shrek" lasts two and half hours, which is something to know if you are taking kids. As a story, "Shrek" is a busy and populated tale beginning with fairy tale creatures that are relocated to Shrek's swamp by the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad (played with great relish and on his knees in a special short legs costume by Merritt David James). The group is lead by a particularly pessimistic Pinocchio (Chase Todd) and there's even Gingy (voiced by Schuyler Midgett), the sassy gingerbread cookie. Of course Donkey, the part that was voiced by Eddie Murphy in the movie and who Andre Jordan sounds a lot like here, is along for the journey to be both pain and friend to Shrek. Overall, the performances in this "Shrek" are energetic and comic without crossing over into the camp territory. As Shrek, Lukas Poost's accent gets the better of him at times but he plays off well with Liz Shivener's sharp, "bi-polar" Princess Fiona. Tesori's music has a modern edge to it and is more serviceable than memorable. The songs are spiced by Lindsay-Abaire's witty lyrics. The parts that don't work in this "Shrek" are the parts that really could only be pulled off on film — the dragon is an impressive large puppet but does it really need to have a song? And the spectacle of Princess Fiona's final transformation is pretty but doesn't make sense. Still, "Shrek" is light and bright entertainment. The show isn't trying to be the Great American Musical, thank goodness, and just because Hollywood got to it first doesn't make it bad. The story holds up and the ogre and his cartoon pals are good-hearted and warped just enough to be worth the time.