Last week, your Rockford Theater Examiner had the chance to attend a dress rehearsal of Byron Civic Theatre’s summer production of Shrek the Musical. The show opened last weekend and will continue performances this weekend before the production closes.
The musical is, of course, based on the familiar 2001 animated film. Much of the dialogue and the punch lines make the transition word for word, and there are also additional bits added in for the stage adaptation that expand on some of the characters. It is interesting to have greater insight into the motivations of many of the well known characters.
The actors portraying them generally do their job well. Shrek is performed largely in line with his film counterpart, an ogre with a genuinely good heart beneath his curmudgeonly crust. It’s also nice to see that he isn’t afraid to put his own stamp on the role, giving a personalized interpretation of a part that is somewhat of a modern entertainment icon. The more emotional songs he performs are a highlight of the production. The female lead of Fiona is perfection. She hits all the right stylistic notes, has an impressive singing voice, and portrays the unabashed character with earnestness. In the sidekick role, Donkey very closely emulates the Eddie Murphy original. Some more originality might have added a little extra icing to the cake (but the valid counterargument would be that you get what you’re expecting), and there are moments when his speech gets speedy and unclear. The leads are supported by a very capable and strong supporting cast. There are times when a few of the ensemble players’ numbers lack volume (almost to the point of unintelligibility in fact) but this is more of a technical issue, and in other numbers they are just fine. There is also a large number of children in the cast that are used sparsely. The number honestly could have been halved in the name of streamlining, but the audience will no doubt “aww” when they do their tap number in mouse costumes.
On the technical side, there are some great things and some things that need improvement. The lighting design is superb, accentuating the story and featuring numerous special effects that any local theatre may covet. The set looks good to be sure, but struggles to match the size of the stage. Even when filled with actors and set pieces, the space is honestly just a little too big to be used effectively at all times (conceding that there isn’t really a complete workaround to the this; it’s just a fact of the performance space and not a fault to necessarily take with this production). The transitions between scenes do need a lot of work. Snappier scenes changes would do a great deal to keep an even and consistent flow, and they get quite laborious for the people on the stage and those in the audience alike. Perhaps, though, this was due to your Rockford Theatre Examiner having viewed a dress rehearsal. The costuming is generally well done. The main characters all match what we remember from the film, and the myriad fairy tale creatures are instantly and specifically recognizable. If one thing could be changed in the costume arena, perhaps the suggestion could be made to have a little more fun with some of the character concepts. There are standouts like the Pinocchio character (replete with an extending nose, no less), and there are others like the three bears and Donkey that go the “mascot” route. They suffice and do not detract by any means, it’s just that some are more creative than others when viewed comparatively. There are also some very clever works of puppetry for characters like the gingerbread man and the dragon (which, yes, is full sized) that make a good impression. The orchestra for this production is live and plays sufficiently well.
Shrek is an entertaining evening. The production is big, the performers are fun, and the message about being true to yourself is worthwhile. Performances wrap up this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. Sunday. Tickets may be purchased online or by calling BCT at 815-312-3000. Pricing starts at $12, with senior and student/children’s rates also available.