ShrektheMusicalcoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes
2012, 130 min., Color
Rated PG for some rude humor and adult talk
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, UV copy
Bonus features: C-

Since most people can’t get to a Broadway play, watching a filmed performance like Shrek the Musical is the closest they’ll come.

Tightly framed and with numerous close-ups and medium shots, Shrek the Musical makes you feel as if you’ve got a front-row seat. Because those close-ups and quick cuts from camera to camera are the only ways in which the filmmakers can bring a sense of the cinematographic to the production, it would have been tempting to go overboard. But fans of theater can rest assured that there are plenty of long shots that capture the full spectacle.

Like The Lion King, the plot of this musical is so familiar that any real variety depends upon the casting decisions, the performances, and the costuming and props.

Open your Playbill and you’ll see that the Broadway cast features Brian d’Arcy (Smash, Game Change) as Shrek, Sutton Foster (Bunheads) as Fiona, Christopher Sieber (Two of a Kind) as Lord Farquaad, and Daniel Breaker (Limitless) as Donkey.

I’m not surprised that the musical won a Tony for costuming. When the guards or the fairy tale characters crowd the stage it’s the kind of colorful extravaganza that attracts families to shows like this. But I wasn’t terribly impressed with the design or choreography of the dragon. In fact, as with The Lion King, I much prefer the animated version. 

The songs themselves—there are 21, including reprises—are sung with varying degrees of success. Hampered by having to try to talk like Mike Myers and sing like an ogre, d’Arcy sounds a little too unmelodic and abrasive in one song, and a little too smooth in another.

Who knocked it out of the park? Given the audience applause (and I’m happy to add my own clapping), that would be Sieber, a two-time Tony nominee whose resume includes performances in Into the Woods and Monty Python’s Spamalot. Admittedly the audience is on his side the minute they see he’s performing on his knees, with his legs hidden behind a dark cape and a pair of tiny fake legs perfectly capturing the diminutive nature of the cartoon prince. But he also manages to infuse the songs with his character, as does Foster. In fact, even the young women playing younger versions of Fiona (Leah Greenhaus, Marissa O’Donnell) sing with interpretive emotion in “I Know It’s Today,” with all three Fionas onstage together.

ShrektheMusicalscreenThat song, “This Is How a Dream Comes True,” and “Big Bright Beautiful World” are perhaps the most memorable, with “I’m a Believer” added from the animated feature and performed energetically as a finale.

As Donkey, Breaker is no Eddie Murphy, but he’s got the right tone and the right amount of sassiness to make the jokes work. He and Sieber may not get top billing, but I can’t imagine this musical working without them. Some of the jokes are a little adult, but mild compared to most films these days and certainly nothing that would keep younger viewers from watching.

I don’t want to misrepresent myself as an avid theatergoer. But I’ve seen Les Miserables on Broadway, I’ve seen a West End production of The Lion King, and I saw touring performances of Wicked (in Chicago) and Mary Poppins (at the Kennedy Center), and I thought all of them were better than this production. The Lion King would have been a tie had the music not been stronger than what we get here. Still, Shrek the Musical is far from a stinker. Despite its flaws, it’s energetic, it’s entertaining, it’s colorful, and it’s a whole lot better than any of the live-action film adaptations of animated features that are out there.