“Shrek The Musical” will offer the grumpy a pleasant surprise: a beloved tale, which wasn’t exactly crying out for tuner adaptation, actually gaining charm in the retelling. The national tour now at the Pantages has only excesses of length and a few performances standing in the way of unalloyed family delight.
William Steig’s misanthropic, belching and farting ogre was bold at the time, but after a decade’s worth of “South Park,” this revisionist fairy tale seems downright mild. The producers have wisely not jacked up the ewwww quotient but gone with the material’s strengths: legendary characters like Pinocchio and the Big Bad Wolf acting out of character; and an unforced message of tolerance toward those who are “different.”
The tuner earns kids’ laughs and tears without getting caught up in phony sentimental uplift.
The attractive production, with Hugh Vanstone’s eye-popping lighting and Tim Hatley’s assured puppetry, won’t bore grownups either. Most of the performances are droll and assured, though the Pantages’ sound system undoes David Lindsay-Abaire’s lyrics and the shrieking of Alan Mingo Jr.’s Donkey and Blakely Slaybaugh’s eunuch-like Pinocchio, both of whom could profitably revisit the original movie for a lesson in easy listening.
And long running time is most unfriendly to kiddie attention spans and kiddie bladders. Half a dozen songs seem to have been tacked on just to expand the 95-minute feature to full length. Perhaps one day Shrek will find his ideal home: not the swamps of Duloc but the deserts of Vegas, where a tight one-act version with ramped up magical F/X could live happily ever after.