PLAY REVIEW: Everything 'Shrek' is new again

·4 min read

Aug. 5—PLAY REVIEW

VALDOSTA — "Shrek" is a well-known story.

Between the movies and the live Broadway musical which has become a popular staple with school and community theatres, the "Shrek" story has become so popular that younger generations accept its characters and storylines as how fairy tales have always been told rather than an innovative device of spoofing fairy tale cliches introduced more than 20 years ago in the first movie.

And after having small children at the time the "Shrek" movies premiered in movie theatres then played endlessly on DVDs in my home for years, then watching performances of "Shrek: The Musical" performed by Peach State Summer Theatre, Lowndes High School Off-Broadway and Berrien County High School in recent years ... I dreaded watching another "Shrek" production.

Absolutely dreaded it.

Within minutes of the curtain rising, Theatre Guild Valdosta's "Shrek" wiped that dread away.

Theatre Guild Valdosta has produced a marvelously entertaining and funny show, making everything familiar new and fresh again.

Brock Gilliard, the show director, deserves a lot of the credit for the show's success. He, the cast and crew commit full tilt to the humor.

A great example is the scene where the Duloc Greeter, played by Kamari Samuels, is terrified of Shrek; instead of just screaming and dashing to exit the stage, Samuels' Greeter collapses and slowly inches his way off the stage. The longer it takes, the funner it becomes.

A lot of directors would have shortened the exit but Gilliard allows this moment and many others to play out to great effect. The result is a "Shrek" stage show that has the energy and joyously raucous sensibility of a live cartoon.

Gilliard's "Shrek" is as fresh as seeing it for the first time. It's a bravura follow-up to his brilliant direction of "Murder on the Orient Express" earlier this year. He follows "Shrek" with "A Christmas Carol" in December.

Gilliard is joined by a committed creative crew.

Kelly Barbour and Samuels join Gilliard as show choreographers creating memorable dance numbers especially a tap production featuring Whitney Singletary's Fiona dancing with a group of "rats."

Costumers Pauline Player, Mary Ann Green, Dana Welch, Pam Barton, Linda Stikkel, Broadway, Inc., bring the "Shrek" world to colorful life with a fantastic fairy tale wardrobe. Just the costume changes for Brawdy Gupton's Lord Farquad must have required a full-time costumer.

And Welch's dragon is a site to behold — possibly worth the price of admission just to see it operated by four adult puppeteers.

And, of course, the cast becomes these characters. They are playing cartoons and fairy tale characters so they do not hold back. They crowd The Dosta Playhouse with larger-than-life personalities.

The entire fairy tale population forcibly moved to Shrek's swamp is splendid. The Three Bears, White Rabbit, Peter Pan, the Wicked Witch, Humpty Dumpty, the Big Bad Wolf, etc., come to cranky, agitated then spirited life here. While there are no wrong notes among this fairy tale ensemble, Sunny Lee's Pinocchio and Dalton Bell's Gingerbread Man puppetry stand out.

Julianna Watson is a stand-out providing the voice of the Dragon, singing "Forever." She sings the song with great passion and skill.

Gupton handles the physical and comic demands of playing Farquad with bold, indomitable style. To capture the character's diminutive height required costuming to include tiny legs and Gupton moving about on his knees throughout the majority of the performance, which allows for many comic moments — including one where Farquad "runs" across the backs of his kneeling subjects. Gupton plays all of these moments to the hilt.

Singletary is a joy as Fiona. She has a great singing voice. She's a skilled dancer. She is funny with great comic timing that works for her lines, her physical movements and facial expressions. And people will care for her Fiona. She's a gem from start to finish.

Kamron Whooten's Donkey is brash, sassy, soulful and funny. His Donkey has the manic personality expected but depth, too. Whooten has a versatile singing voice and his face, body and hands remain expressive despite Donkey's heavy makeup and costuming. Whooten's Donkey is a noble steed, indeed.

David Bass brings the show home as the title character Shrek. Bass wraps the character's ferocious, world-weary, yet optimistic spirit into one big, brogue-talking, green package. Similar to the line from the show, Bass' Shrek is like an onion — he has layers. And he's funny.

Though "Shrek," the story, is well known, it is also beloved. The opening night show sold out and tickets for other performances were reportedly selling at brisk pace. It's all worth it. In Theatre Guild Valdosta's capable hands, everything "Shrek" is as fresh, spontaneous and funny as if the first time.

Theatre Guild Valdosta's "Shrek: The Musical" continues 7:30 p.m. Friday through Saturday, Aug. 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 11-13, The Dosta Playhouse, 122 N. Ashley St. More information: Visit theatreguildvaldosta.com or call (229) 247-8243.

This review is based on the final dress-rehearsal performance Wednesday night.