Sunday, July 24, 2022

"Shrek" at Artistry

To close out their 2021-2022 season that began with the gorgeous and timely Jason Robert Brown song cycle Songs for a New World, ushering us into the new world of post (mid) pandemic theater, Artistry is bringing us the joyful story of Shrek. This story of a lonely ogre who finds friends, community, and love is a celebration of the beautiful uniqueness of all of us freaks, and it's a really fun time. With a huge cast chock full of local talent; super fun fairy tale costumes; direction by #TCTheater veteran Angela Timberman, a master of making the audience laugh while tugging at their heartstrings; and a catchy score music directed for the last time by Artistry's soon-to-be-retired resident Music Director Anita Ruth, Shrek is a great choice for kids and grown-ups alike (continuing at the Bloomington Center for the Arts through August 14).

Kevin Brown, Jr., Quinn Forrest Masterson, 
Janely Rodriguez, and Deidre Cochran (photo by Tommy Sar)
After being kicked out by his parents at age 7, as is the ogre way, Shrek is living a solo life on his swamp, telling himself he's happy away from the "Big, Bright, Beautiful World." The swamp is soon invaded by a bunch of fairy tale characters, from Pinocchio to the Big Bad Wolf, who were banished from the city of Duloc by the evil Lord Farquaad. Shrek heads to Duloc to try to remedy the situation, and picks up Donkey along the way, his new best friend and a constant source of annoyance. The vertically challenged Farquaad takes the opportunity to send Shrek on a task that he's unwilling to do himself - rescue Princess Fiona from her tower so that he can marry her and become King. Fiona has been waiting all her life for a knight to rescue her, just like in the fairy tales. She's somewhat disappointed when her rescuer is an ogre, but is reassured when they tell her they're taking her to a Lord in a castle. Along the way something unexpected happens - Shrek and Fiona realize they have a lot in common, from their unhappy childhoods (leading to the charming song "I Think I Got You Beat") to their talent in making bodily noises. But secrets, miscommunication, and expectations lead Fiona to go through with the wedding, until Shrek comes to stop it by telling her the truth about his feelings for her and the man she's about to marry. And these two crazy ogres and their wonderfully freakish friends live happily ever after.*

Highlights of Artistry's production include:

  • As the titular ogre, Quinn Forrest Masterson is an absolute find. I've not seen him on stage before, and he couldn't be better in this role. Funny and grumpy and empathetic, with a fantastic voice and great stage presence. He's well matched in Deidre Cochran as Princess Fiona, a powerhouse in her own right, and the two have an adorable chemistry and harmonize beautifully together.
  • The supporting cast is top notch too, including Kevin Brown, Jr. (fresh of his star turn in History Theatre's Parks) as Donkey; Jon Michael Stiff as Lord Farquaad, bringing a new twist to the role, prancing around the stage like a drag queen in platform stiletto boots (as opposed to walking on his knees like the role is traditionally played); Janely Rodriguez as the dragon who is not slayed, but slays every song she sings; and so many terrific ensemble members playing multiple roles.
  • There are a ton of pop culture references, not just fairy tales but also musical theater, from Wicked to The Lion King to Dreamgirls and more.
  • Khamphian Vang has designed some fantastic and fantastical costumes, from all of the beloved fairy tale characters, to the ogre looks, to the dragon's fierce and shimmering red gown with wings.
  • Christopher Heilman's colorful and whimsical set brings us to the swamp, the castle, and more.
  • Nowhere but at Artistry can you depend on there always being a full pit orchestra, and that's thanks to Anita Ruth - Music Director, conductor, and arranger extraordinaire. After this show she is "stepping away" from her position at Artistry, but for one final time, she impeccably directs the 13-piece pit orchestra on this fun and catchy score. You can read about her long and illustrious career in #TCTheater here.
  • What better message could there be for the young and the not-so-young than to "Let Your Freak Flag Fly" - be who you authentically are, whether you're an ogre or a gingerbread man or any variation of human.
Click here for all of the details and ticket information for Shrek, playing Wednesday through Sundays until August 14.

the cast of Shrek (photo by Tommy Sar)

*Plot summary borrowed from my review of Children's Theatre Company's 2014 production.