October 5, 2014
At first I was not so sure that I wanted to watch the musical version of the Dreamworks hit animated film "Shrek". I thought for sure the magic of the film cannot be adequately translated onto the live stage. The initial posters that came out did not seem to be too interesting as well. However when the show opened a couple of weekends ago and glowing reviews came out on how good it was, I was convinced of its quality and bought tickets for the whole family to watch.
Before the show started it was announced that Shrek will not be played by Rycharde Everley, who was the actor cited in all the publicity. I have seen Everley play in "Spelling Bee" before and had no doubt he can pull off being Shrek. However this replacement Franz Imperial was an unknown actor to me. When I asked one of the staff, it turned out that Everley had been taken ill, so Imperial was promoted from the Ensemble to play the lead role Shrek for this weekend's performances.
The musical, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, tells the basic story of the first Shrek film. The swamp home of the grumpy green ogre Shrek was overrun by fairy tale characters who were exiled there by Lord Farquaad of Duloc. Shrek with his new friend Donkey accepts the challenge set by Farquaad to save the Princess Fiona from her imprisonment in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. However, Fiona has a dark secret of her own that needs true love's first kiss to solve. Who will set her free from her nightly curse? Will it be Farquaad? Or can it be Shrek?
Despite initial apprehensions, it turns out that there was no need to worry because Franz Imperial was actually very good as Shrek! His singing voice was full and very solid. He had Shrek's Scottish accent down. He had excellent buddy chemistry with the Donkey and romantic chemistry with Fiona, such that he did not feel like a short-notice replacement at all. He actually looked better and more lovable in the Shrek get-up than Everley did in the publicity photos. Imperial was able to project the inner goodness of the gruff ogre from under all of that green rubbery make-up. This pinch-hitter hit a home run!
As Princess Fiona, Shiela Valderrama performed like I had never seen her perform before. Her songs were the most vocally challenging of all. Her first song "I Know It's Today," which she sang with two other younger actresses (Arriana Everley and Katie Bradshaw) playing Fionas in younger ages, had very vocally punishing notes. Valderrama nails them amazingly. She had two other great numbers in Act 2, "Morning Person" and "I Think I Got You Beat" (with its glorious belching and farting), both of which showed off her comic flair on top of her flawless strong vocals. She knew this role was for her and she brought it home.
Three Atlantis stalwarts star in major supporting roles. Nyoy Volante was practically unrecognizable as Donkey. He has got the Eddie Murphy-style smart-aleck personality and speed talking like it was second nature. Jett Pangan is a riot as bad power-hungry midget, Lord Farquaad. The way he was able to make the fake short legs he wore in front of him seem alive as he performed kneeling the whole time was very impressive in its difficult physicality. Carla Guevara-Laforteza stars as lady personification of the Dragon. The giant Dragon puppet was the single most extravagantly beautiful prop I had seen in local theater. Laforteza gives it the sassy but lonely character it required. They are all really very versatile actors and their singing skills never missed their marks, as always.
The music of the show is generally upbeat and catchy. However, things get a little bogged down towards the end of the second act with a series of serious ballads. Fortunately, the cast would additionally sing their own version of The Monkees' hit "I'm a Believer" to liven things up at the very end. Imperial and Valderrama were both in perfect voice in this number as they led the whole cast in their bouncy finale number. The stage set up with the green-lit giant "S" and confetti shower made for a memorable lasting impression as audiences go home with smiles on their faces.
Congratulations again to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis cast and crew for another big success in translating another challenging stage production to life.
"Shrek" will run for just one more weekend this week, up to October 12, 2014. If you loved the film, then you will also enjoy seeing these beloved characters come to life. The whole family will enjoy this show. Do not miss it!