Young Fiona (Laurie Newsom), Fiona (Kelly Maur), and Teen Fiona (Sara Kowalski)
Young Fiona (Laurie Newsom), Fiona (Kelly Maur), and Teen Fiona (Sara Kowalski)
Photo: RDG Photography
This unabashedly farcical, yet deeply allegorical tale serves as a welcome balm in our present journey, as we see in this energetic production, directed and choreographed by Piper Lindsay Arpan, now running at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Scott Hurst Junior as Shrek
Scott Hurst Jr. as Shrek
Photo: RDG Photography
It seems that everyone has their own interpretation of what the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright (Rabbit Hole), David Lindsay-Abaire, had in mind. The story of an ogre (Shrek) living as an ostracized hermit in a swamp could apply to any number of minorities, outcast because of appearance, religion, political persuasion, or sexual identity.

Lindsay-Abaire fills the story with a Who's Who of famous characters and creatures from children's fairy tales, songs, and poems—including Pinocchio, Gingy [Gingerbread Man], Peter Pan, Ugly Duckling, Sugar Plum Fairy, Three Pigs, Wicked Witch, Three Bears, Big Bad Wolf, Humpty Dumpty, Fairy Godmother, Three Blind Mice, and Pied Piper—who, as the story nears it climax, sing "Freak Flag,"—a direct lyric reference to Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Almost Cut My Hair" from their Deja Vu album (1970), which at the time referenced the rebelliousness of long hair, Haight-Ashbury clothing, and anti-war protests—just as the fairytale creatures are about to overthrow Lord Farquaad.

That scene is the culmination of a hero's journey that begins with the hermit, Shrek (Scott Hurst Jr.), being swamped (pun intended) by the fairytale creatures, who tell him they have been banished from their homes in Dulac by Lord Farquaad. Shrek then heads off to Lord Farquaad's castle to demand that the swamp be deeded to him and that the fairytale creatures be allowed to return to their homes. As he approaches the castle, Shrek saves Donkey (Oscar Whitney Jr.), who joins Shrek, despite the ogre's protestations.

Donkey (Oscar Whitney Junior) and Shrek (Scott Hurst Junior)
Donkey (Oscar Whitney Junior)
and Shrek (Scott Hurst Junior)
Photo: RDG Photography
Whitney and Hurst have great fun playing the irresistable force versus the immoveable object, while a subtextual attachment forms between the extroverted hee-haw and the introverted "Bah, humbug!" They are surrounded by a bevy of likewise endearing performances, including Kelly Maur as Fiona, the princess that they must rescue from Dragon and bring to Lord Farquaad to marry, to enable the bully to become king. Maur takes Fiona's romantic rescue fantasies to the hilt, creating an hilarious on-going go-around with her perceived hero, Shrek, who is wearing a helmet to hide what he sees as his hideous features. Yet, underneath their sharp repartee, they are drawn to each other. Perhaps, Shrek really is Fiona's knight in shining armor?!

After a misunderstanding, it appears all is lost for that romance, and the princess prepares to marry the diminuative Lord Farquaad (Ethan Lee Knowles) in spite. Knowles' mix of petulant child and melodramatic villain (reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash, from the early television [19591964] segment, "Fractured Fairytales"), sends up a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek bad guy that deserves what he gets from Donkey's new friend, Dragon.

Nathaniel Beutel as Pinocchio and Kelly Maur as Witch
Nathaniel Beutel as Pinocchio
and Kelly Maur as Witch
Photo: RDG Photography
The musical score, written by Jeanine Tesori (2015 Tony Award for Best Original Score for Fun Home, shared with Lisa Kron), provides a number of gems for the cast, including Fiona's anthem, "This Is How A Dream Comes True," sung by Maur in a cute, comedic tip-of-the-hat voice to the original cartoon, and Fiona and Shrek's wonderful love song and paeon to diversity, "Beautiful Ain't Always Pretty." Hurst's embodiment of Shrek's journey from a hermit ogre to an ogre in love makes for a sweet catharsis in the denouement. Arpan's creative choreography, spanning chorus lines to tap, and the remarkable costumes and scenery, top off this heart-warming tale.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse's presentation of Shrek, The Musical, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, runs through August 22, 2021. For tickets: http://THEATRECOMPANY.ORG, or call the box office at 970-744-3747.

Bob Bows

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