So you need a break from the endless search for the perfect holiday gifts, and the kids need a distraction from Santa’s impending arrival. What to do?
My suggestion: Head over to the Palm Canyon Theatre, and take in a performance of Shrek the Musical.
The show, of course, is based on the 2001 blockbuster DreamWorks film, and the book and lyrics are by David-Lindsay Abaire, with music by Jeanine Tesori. It tells the story of an ogre named Shrek, who is sent out into the world by his parents at the age of 7. His parents warn him that because of his odd appearance, life will be difficult for him. Shrek is living alone in a swamp when all sorts of fairy-tale creatures show up, having been banished from the Kingdom of Duloc by the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (who belts out “Story of My Life” to explain).
Shrek sets off to see Farquaad in an effort to get his privacy back, and runs into an annoyingly chatty donkey along the way. Meanwhile, Farquaad is making plans to marry Princess Fiona, who’s been locked up in a tower for years; meanwhile, she’s waiting for a brave knight to rescue her with a kiss. Like Shrek, she’s been on her own since the age of 7. Farquaad agrees to give Shrek the deed to the swamp in exchange for rescuing Fiona—a task which includes dealing with a fire-breathing dragon and a moat of lava.
Fiona is initially shocked by Shrek’s looks, but we later learn that she’s hiding a secret. Shrek assures her that it’s Lord Farquaad she is to marry, and wedding plans are made. But affection grows between the princess and the ogre.
Does the wedding occur? Or does Fiona’s friendship with Shrek blossom into romance? Do Pinocchio, Peter Pan and the other the fairy-tale creatures move out of the swamp? If you are one of the few people who haven’t watched the movie, see Palm Canyon’s production to find out.
This Shrek gets off to a slow start. The actors lack a bit of energy, but that all changes when the Donkey (Shafik Wahhab) enters the picture. Wahhab nearly steals the show, thanks to his physical antics and Eddie Murphy-esque repartee. He provides much of the humor, and it’s hard to keep your eyes off him.
Kelly Peak is quite good as Shrek. He has a strong singing voice and allows us to see the ogre’s vulnerability; after all, ogres need love, too. Also notable is Anne Schroeder as Fiona, whose comic timing and strong voice are reminiscent of a young Carol Burnett, in “Once Upon a Mattress.” Nicholas Sloan’s Lord Farquaad is hilarious; his performance (delivered entirely on his knees) deserves a Supporting Actor nomination of some sort. The always-dependable Julie Rosser is fabulous as the voice of the Dragon.
The ensemble—which includes many children—is adorable, but some of the group numbers seem a tad under-rehearsed. Director William Layne keeps things moving along, and the relationships between the main characters are well-developed and believable.
Once the cast’s energy level picks up, it stays up, and everyone onstage seems to be having a blast. The music is catchy; the costumes are colorful; and the large dragon puppet is terrific and manipulated with great skill. (During the matinee I saw, there were microphone glitches in the first five minutes, but I’m sure those will be worked out.)
The underlying message—love and happiness is possible for all of us, no matter what we look like or how rocky of a start we had in life—is one we can’t hear often enough. Palm Canyon Theatre’s production of Shrek the Musical is uplifting and fun, and a great addition to the valley’s holiday entertainment. The closing number, Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer,” will have you humming and tapping your toes all the way home.
Shrek the Musical is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Dec. 22, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32. Running time is about 2 1/2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or go to www.palmcanyontheatre.org.