By Kay Kipling
How do you adapt a hugely successful animated children’s movie into a live stage musical? It’s been done in many different ways over the years, some more creative and successful than others. Shrek: The Musical, now onstage at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, is probably in the fair-to middling range when it comes to both.
It’s certainly colorful and lively enough, especially in this production, which in many ways does the Manatee Players proud. The director (Rick Kerby), cast, and crew behind the host of characters and designs on view here (I single out costumer Ken Mooney especially) have done a yeoman’s job of creating that slightly skewed fairytale world of Shrek, and the show is often fun, if not laugh-out-loud funny in the way the movie was.
Kerby has a strong cast, from the lead ogre (Brian Chunn), who just wants to be left alone in his swamp, to the lovely Princess Fiona (Sarah Cassidy), who has some not very princess-y ways plus a dark secret, to the comic Donkey (Whitney Mignon Reed, sassy with verve). Chunn and Cassidy are talented both on the vocal side, able to range from the rocking I Think I Got You Beat to the more sentimental This Is Our Story, and on the personality side, working well together to present a cockeyed love story.
They’re backed by a large ensemble, varying from familiar storybook legends like Peter Pan and Pinocchio to dancing rats and cowardly/menacing guards for the villain of the piece, Lord Farquaad. A newcomer to the Manatee stage, Mike Thompson makes the most of this role, ably portraying the vain, vertically challenged Farquaad while scooting around on his knees, and his costume (with dangling, nonfunctional legs) provides some of the best visual jokes of the show.
There’s a lot of talent throughout that ensemble, including the actresses playing two younger versions of Fiona (Riley Baye and Miranda Wolf) and singer Latoya McCormick (voicing a fire-breathing dragon with a yen for Donkey), plus a lot of hard work by everyone including the dragon puppeteers and dancing Dulocs. There are also some sly references to other musicals and works that may reach the grown-up audience more than the kids in the house.
It’s occasionally hard to distinguish some of David Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics on larger cast numbers (the songs are written with Jeanine Tesori), such as Freak Flag. But the spirit and enthusiasm of the performers here are undeniable.
So if Shrek: The Musical doesn’t quite reach the elevated status of say, a Lion King, it still provides entertainment. The show runs through March 2; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.