The Walt Disney Company has mounted several of its animated movie properties for the Broadway stage, and some have met with great success: Beauty and the Beast had a thirteen year run, and The Lion King is still a sellout smash since opening in 1997, so it was no surprise when Dreamworks Animation wanted to get in on the potential gold mine by mounting its most successful franchise Shrek for the stage. After spending $24 million, the show only ran a little more than a year and didn’t make back its costs, but the Broadway cast was filmed and is presented now in Shrek the Musical. Like the film, it’s a raucous, free-wheeling fairy tale but now set to music with all of the famous characters from the film taking on quite accurate stage incarnations.
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Distributed By: Fox
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraVioletkeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 10/15/2013
In order to become a king, the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber) enlists the help of the green ogre Shrek (Brian d'Arcy James) to go rescue the Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster) from a tower fortress being guarded by a fire-breathing dragon so he can marry her. Aiding Shrek on his quest is the motormouthed Donkey (Daniel Breaker). Though Shrek isn’t looking for any friends, he and Donkey do develop a bond on their quest, and once he meets Fioana, the nasty ogre begins to develop tender, romantic feelings for the first time even though he knows she’s promised to another.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Those familiar with the original Shrek film will not find the story much changed (with hunks of dialogue from the original film still in play in David Lindsay-Abaire’s book for the musical), so how come a less than ninety minute film runs more than two hours on the stage? Seventeen musical numbers with lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori pepper the story with introductory songs for all of the major and minor characters: “Big, Bright Beautiful World” and “Story of My Life” allow us to meet Pinocchio and his entourage along with Shrek, Donkey gets his due in “Don’t Let Me Go,” Fiona’s opening song of lament (sung by her child and adolescent incarnations as well as her adult model) “I Know It’s Today,” and "What's Up, Duloc?" for Lord Farquaad. The latter is one of the show’s most dazzling production numbers with the amazing Christopher Sieber dancing and prancing on his knees demonstrating memorable breath control for all-time with his exhausting, exhilarating performance. Later big numbers like “Morning Person” which opens the second act and allows the über-talented Sutton Foster a chance to tap dance with a chorus line of rats and “Freak Flag” which speaks for all the world’s misfits all score with the audience, and Tesori has written a couple of clever counterpoint numbers which are melodically interesting: “Travel Song” for Shrek and Donkey and “"I Think I Got You Beat” as Shrek and Fiona compare their backstories of misery. Interesting music, but not really memorable which is the problem with Shrek’s score. It works in the moment and fits the show’s playful mood, but it doesn’t charm. In fact, copying the film, the play ends with the characters letting go with “I’m a Believer” which is genuinely the show’s most notable tune, obviously not a new one.
As for the libretto, David Lindsay-Abaire has certainly taken a page out of the Dreamworks playbook and worked into the scenario a number of different allusions and homages to the past, only this time playing with theater references rather than film or television ones. Peppered throughout the evening are nods to A Chorus Line, Wicked, Chicago, and The Lion King, all instantly recognizable but all seeming a bit desperate in trying to make an audience connection. Puss ‘n Boots pops by for a tiny cameo though he doesn’t join in with the main action (he didn’t turn up until the second film, and this story is covering the first one). Also carried over from the Dreamworks playbook are lots of poop, pee, belch, and fart jokes. In fact, “I Think I Got You Beat” does for the stage what Mel Brooks’ campfire scene in Blazing Saddles did for films in terms of flatulence. The costumes (which won the show’s only Tony Award) and sets are brilliant, and Josh Prince’s choreography is busy if not truly inspired. While Jason Moore’s stage direction keeps the show moving and constantly interesting to the eye, Michael Warren’s video direction doesn’t always focus the camera where an audience would want to look missing some choreography due to close-ups or medium shots that cut off the feet and whipping the camera unnaturally along a long line of cast members to get them each a quick close-up.
The leading players Brian d’Arcy James, Sutton Foster, and Christopher Sieber are all Tony nominated stage veterans (Foster has won twice and was nominated for this show as were Sieber and James), and their ability to seize the stage and sing their guts out even in the heavy makeup and costumes they’re saddled with is truly impressive. John Tartaglia, another previous Tony nominee who plays Pinocchio and also performs the mechanics for the Magic Mirror and the Dragon, likewise impresses with his freakishly high voice and hilarious timing with the puppet’s growing nose. Daniel Breaker as Donkey won’t make anyone forget Eddie Murphy’s original interpretation, but he gets the job done here.
The transfer is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is almost always spot-on, and color is dazzlingly rich and flavorful. Skin tones are true to the characters and consistently realized. Black levels are excellent with shadow detail never sacrificed in some of the darker-lit sequences of the piece. The show has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix puts the viewer squarely in the center of the theater with the orchestra magically planted all around in a sensationally vibrant use of the entire wide audio spectrum. Voices either speaking or singing emanate from the center channel with the LFE channel well used to give an effective bass presence to scenes which require it.
Audio Rating: 5/5
Shrek the Musical Songbook (HD): allows the viewer to jump to seven different musical sequences in the show. There are sing along lyrics provided for six of them.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
From Swamp to Stage: The Making of Shrek the Musical (8:06, HD): hosted by original film’s Fiona Cameron Diaz, this is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of the play with short sound bites from director Jason Moore, choreographer Josh Prince, composer Jeanine Tesori, and book author and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire.
Promo Trailers (HD): Turbo, The Croods, Epic.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc in the case and an instruction sheet enclosed for the digital copy
Though nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical (it lost to Billy Elliot), Shrek the Musical is an entertaining but fairly forgettable musical version of the Dreamworks animated hit. Though big in size and color, it misses those most important ingredients heart and charm that give the best musicals their longevity.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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