Monday, December 15, 2008

Shrek the Musical

(Critic-O-Metered by Isaac Butler)

GRADE: B-

Music by Jeanine Tesori, book & lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaiare. Dir. Jason Moore. Chor. Josh Prince. Broadway Theatre. (CLOSED)

Oddly enough, critics seem as interested in whether or not Shrek succeeds financially as they do in whether or not it's a success artistically. Perhaps its the death of arts journalism, or perhaps its the open shallowness of the production's aims, but either way, reviewer after reviewer has something to say about Shrek's prospects in the current economy. Linda Winer at Newsday addresses this directly, writing "The fact that Shrek makes us think more about its market than its achievements, alas, says something about the shortage of real inspiration in the show itself." She gives voice to the major naysayer complaint: Despite a new book by David Lindsay-Abaire and new music by the brilliant Jeanne Tesori, there ain't a lot of creativity on display at The Broadway Theatre. Folks who went in for it said it's a helluva lot of fun, a big hit, something great to bring your kids to that you'll enjoy as well. Detractors and boosters alike have high praise for Brian D'Arcy James' turn as the big ogre and Christopher Sieber's take on Lord Farquaad. All in all, it manages to just squeak over the dividing line between a B- and a B. For a bit of fun, check out the WaPo review, written as a memo to Shrek from his agent. John Heilpern's take on the show is not included, as it is not a review but a commentary on the show's ticket price. Check that one out here.


CurtainUp A
(Simon Saltzman) Enhancing as well as embracing the Shrek cartoon movie could not have been an easy task. But thanks to an extremely creative production team, this musical is alternately funny-as-can-be and heart-warming. That it is longer by an hour than the film doesn't prove to be a problem considering the addition of many terrific musical numbers. It was no less than inspiration to engage David Lindsay-Abaire to adapt the screenplay. I don't know how much dialogue he has extracted from the film, but much of it resonates with the same loopy overtones that made Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo so marvelously original. The lyrics he has written to Jeanine Tesori's lovely score are also distinguished by their sweet and comical sensibility. A departure from the stunning but more seriously defined operatic score she wrote for Caroline, or Change, Tesori's has written seventeen songs to kick up a notch what we have come to accept as traditional show music.

Backstage A
(Adam R. Pearlman) Why does Shrek work when so many other super-sized tuners don't? Part of it is the look: The show actually looks worth the millions lavished upon it, with Tim Hatley's set and costume designs faithful to the film without being slavish imitations. Part of it is the humor: Shrek is legitimately funny. But Shrek's biggest asset is a well-credentialed coterie of cast and creatives that actually seem to believe in what they've created. They may play with the expensive toys their budget affords them, but they never forget that Shrek is fundamentally about abandoned children and learning to "let your freak flag fly."

Philadelphia Inquirer A
(Howard Shapiro) You'd have to be the world's crankiest ogre to resist the witty, charming new musical that opened last night and gives Ugly the ultimate workover.

USA Today A-
(Elysa Gardner) Shrek, which draws from William Steig's book about a lovable ogre and the DreamWorks animated movie that it inspired, is... a triumph of comic imagination with a heart as big and warm as Santa's. It is the most ingeniously wacky, transcendently tasteless Broadway musical since The Producers, and more family-friendly than that gag-fest.Shrek is pretty grand entertainment, and to these eyes, it looks like a big, fat hit.

Variety A-
(David Rooney) Conjuring genuine enchantment without quaintness or treacly sentimentality, the 2001 movie enlivened its storybook traditions with rude humor, gleefully anachronistic pop-culture references and knockabout characters brimming with heart. That recipe remains largely intact in Shrek the Musical, along with much of the irreverent charm that's been successively diluted in two overworked screen sequels. If the storytelling is bumpy in patches and the songs don't quite soar, the show never stints on spectacle or laughs, making it a viable contender for a slice of the Disney market on Broadway.

Hartford Courant B+
(Malcolm Johnson) Though it will not go down in history as a masterpiece, this collaboration of David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori delivers a funny, lively fairy tale about a misanthropic outsider and a princess with a dark secret.

DCTS B+
(Richard Seff) Watch [Brian D'Arcy James], through the green makeup and plump suit and helmet, still able to offer us nuance. Even in a cartoony musical he listens, he reacts, he finds subtle ways to indicate pain and confusion and hurt and joy and so much more. He makes Shrek the Ogre appealing and understandable, so that you find yourself wishing him well, and taking delight when good things eventually happen for him. Watch Ms. Foster find subtle ways in which to take a simple line and make it funny or surprising. Listen to her use her ample and attractive voice to convey everything from frustration to anger to lust, all with the lightest of touches. So all I can say is I hope the DreamWorks crowd is paying each of these two dynamite stars six figures a week, for they are the most redeeming features of an evening of musical theatre that, because of them, is a treat (OK, a small treat, but well worth seeing if you and your family are in the mood for some spectacular scenic effects, some very game supporting players, and two stars who will knock your socks off). For the rest of the staff, everyone’s along for the ride. I think, and hope, it will be a long and happy one.

Entertainment Weekly B+
(Steve Daly) So does it work to turn a movie fueled by pop tunes into a show where characters sing their feelings out loud? Mostly yes. The conceit and the pacing work fine, though the songs themselves are more ho-hum than ''Heigh Ho'' — the catchy ditty from Snow White that the show pokes fun of at its peril, since it only points up its own dearth of great tunes. But if the melodies by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie and Caroline, or Change) never reach first-hearing hummability, they're a serviceably bright framework for lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole).

NJ Star-Ledger B+
(Mark Blankenship) Thanks to exceptional design and two great performances, the sweet-and-salty balance mostly works, delivering plenty of harmless fun.

American Theatre Web B+
(Andy Propst) Mischievous, musical, and an awful lot of fun...It's gleeful, if not terribly deep, fun that's served up in an eye-popping physical production. Tim Hatley's set and costume designs are whimsical and extravagant, and Hugh Vanstone's lighting design is lush, vibrant and atmospheric...Generally, the mix-and-match nature of the score works wonderfully, but it does go astray occasionally...Even the creators' few missteps, though, do not dampen the fun mixture of parody and sweetness which are so much a part of the original film.

Talkin' Broadway B
(Matthew Murray) While this locked-gaze fidelity results in a live show every bit as vivid and enjoyable as the movie, it’s not searing theatre. It’s hardly even imaginative. It’s hilarious where the movie was hilarious, touching where it was touching, gross where it was gross. But it takes nothing appreciably further.

TONY B
(Adam Feldman) David Lindsay-Abaire’s consistently clever lyrics are complemented by Jeanine Tesori’s fresh pop music, and Tim Hatley’s storybook set and costumes look spectacular. But as Shrek says of Lord Farquaad’s castle: “It’s a bit much, isn’t it? Do you think he might be compensating for something?” Although director Jason Moore coordinates the action capably, he has trouble building momentum; Shrek often seems like a supporting character, and the emotional core of the show takes a long time to emerge. Happily, this problem is not fatal. As a lightly fractured fairy tale, Shrek is solid fun. It’s not a dream, but it works.

New York Post B
(Barbara Hoffman) It takes nearly all of Act 1 before Shrek: The Musical starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive. Until then, Jason Moore's staging seems like a blueprint for some DreamWorks on Ice version, with its by-the-numbers readings from the 2001 film and greenery that looks left over from Tarzan.

The Daily News B
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Shrek the Musical certainly has things to like, even if it's sometimes ungainly.

NYMag B
(Jesse Oxfield) Shrek is a fine family-friendly musical, with the gargantuan sets (the Magic Mirror dwarfs any flat-screen you’ve seen this side of a Jumbotron; the dragon is even bigger), sprawling production numbers, and witty asides necessary to deliver the Big Broadway $120 Experience. Tim Hatley’s costumes are a treat, witty and well realized—layers of latex and gobs of green greasepaint transform Brian d’Arcy James into a convincing ogre. And Josh Prince’s choreography occasionally soars—some of the big numbers are forgettable, but they’re redeemed by tap-dancing rats and Fosse-ish skeletons.

Associated Press B
(Michael Kuchwara) If the show, which opened Sunday at the Broadway Theatre, sometimes settles for efficiency over inspiration, so be it. That's one of the pitfalls of closely identifying your product — and these days musicals aspire, above all, to brand-name profitability — with its original source material. You have to satisfy the fans of the film as well as theatergoers who may never have heard of the movie or the William Steig book on which it is based.

Newsday B-
(Linda Winer) Shrek the Musical is sweet and busy, nice and big, and, every so often, extremely lovable. In yesterday's economy, this lavishly down-the-middle adaptation of a movie franchise would probably have been a sure thing for the big-ticket family market.

Chicago Tribune B-
(Chris Jones) When it comes to the lead trio of warbling misfit wanderers, you find yourself rooting for this demonstrably well-meaning show, which avoids cynicism and opens its veins. To its credit, "Shrek the Musical" even seems embarrassed by its own size and budget and the associated impossible expectations of adding a new theatrical layer to a very tricky animated onion from an easier era.

Bloomberg News C+
(John Simon) The good news is that it is done very well; the bad news is that it is done at all. When is the musical theater going to learn to let cartoons lie?

Globe and Mail C+
(Simon Houpt) While the film veered from inventive silliness to teary emotion and edge-of-the-seat thrills (at least for kids, and kids at heart), Shrek The Musical occupies a more narrow range, offering some hearty laughs but little of the giddy ridiculousness or romance to which it aspires. And for a show about inner beauty, it is far too entranced with its own slick production values: heavy prosthetics, storybook sets and motion-capture technology that goes entirely to waste.

The Record C
(Robert Feldberg) It's a pity it's so hectic that it's hard to just sit back and enjoy them. Based on the animated-film goldmine about a Scottish-accented ogre with human qualities, the show apparently found it hard to decide what it should be, and who its intended audience was. Its creators compromised by trying to make it everything for everyone

The New York Times C
(Ben Brantley) Aside from a few jolly sequences (nearly all featuring the hypertalented Ms. Foster), this cavalcade of storybook effigies feels like 40 blocks’ worth of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, accompanied by an exhaustingly jokey running commentary. Shrek, for the record, is not bad... But [it] does not avoid the watery fate that commonly befalls good cartoons that are dragged into the third dimension. What seems blithe and fluid on screen becomes lumbering when it takes on the weight of solid human flesh.

The Washington Post C-
(Peter Marks) So please, could you tell me how this half-baked romp got the, er, green light? Broadway's been doing the mega-budget family entertainment thing since Disney came to town back in '94 with Beauty and the Beast. So how come after all these tries it's still so hard to get it right? (And spare me the "tourists will buy anything with a brand name" argument.) Sure, I see why Lindsay-Abaire, the book writer, went back to the story in the first movie for the stage musical. It's Shrek genesis. You know what, though? It's also a pretty bare-bones fairy tale, stretched to 2 hours. Turns out you do need some super-sparkling work from the digital design guys to make you beguiling.

Village Voice C-
(Michael Feingold) Much depends on how inventively one writes such piffle. David Lindsay-Abaire, the musical's librettist, gets scattershot results, though some of the shots strike home; his lyrics occasionally even strike a poetic note—or would, if Jeanine Tesori's music, strangely unambitious for a composer of her stature, had worked up a poetic mood to support them. But Tesori has simply grabbed a few easy phrases for each number, which she then pounds into the ground with repetition. Surprising, too, is the flatness of Jason Moore's direction; you'd expect a cast this gifted to tempt a director into choices both deeper and more daring. But the normally wonderful Brian d'Arcy James makes a listlessly wistful Shrek; you barely glimpse Daniel Breaker's brilliant powers in Donkey's gibberings; and John Tartaglia, though he makes an excellent Magic Mirror, reduces Pinocchio to an unrelieved off-key whine. Luckily, Sutton Foster's angular vivacity, as Princess Fiona, does brighten things up occasionally, in a generalized way, and Christopher Sieber invests Lord Farquaad with the show's only genuine comic reality. Tim Hatley's hit-or-miss designs are fun when they hit (he gives excellent dragon); Josh Prince's choreography mostly misses. My inner child went home pacified but sulky.

Wall St. Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) Which brings us to the heart of the matter: Shrek is for kids, and no one else. If yours liked the movie, they'll like the musical, which has been cunningly calculated to rope in the present-day pre-teen crowd. The book and lyrics, by David Lindsay-Abaire, mirror the film's jeering humor with perfect precision: Take your fluffy fun/And shove it where the sun don't shine! Most of the jokes are of the insult-and-bodily-function genre ("Shrek" is powered less by electricity than by natural gas). Nor are we spared the starchy pro-tolerance agitprop that long ago became compulsory in cartoons: "Freak Flag," "Shrek"'s big production number, is a tribute to Being Different that rams home its politically correct point with monomaniacal relentlessness. As for Jeanine Tesori's blander-than-bland score, it's baby-food rock, the kind of offensively inoffensive pseudo-music that sounds as though it'd been squeezed out of an empty toothpaste tube.

Theatermania D+
(David Finkle) Julie Taymor may have made adapting a blockbuster animated feature as a musical for the Broadway stage look like a piece of cake, but it ain't -- a fact proven by librettist-lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire, composer Jeanine Tesori, and director Jason Moore, who have gotten it very wrong with Shrek the Musical, now at the Broadway Theater.

AMNY D+
(Matt Windman) Its biggest problem involves the generic, lightweight pop score of composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist-writer David Lindsay-Abaire. Their work is occasionally cute, but not funny or memorable. It’s pretty telling that the musical must close to the tune of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer,” imported from the film’s soundtrack.

CU A 13; BS A 13; PI A 13; USA Today A- 12; Variety A- 12; HC B+ 11; EW B+ 11; NJ B+ 11; ATW B+ 11; DCTS B+ 11; TB B 10; NYP B 10; DN B 10; AP B 10; TONY B 10; NYMAG B 10; ND B- 9; CT B- 9; Bloomberg C+ 8; Globe and Mail C+ 8; NJR C 7; NYT C 7; WP C- 6; VV C- 6; WSJ C- 6; TM D+ 5; AMNY D+ 5; ; TOTAL: 254 / 27 = 9.41 (B-)

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