Sunday, June 23, 2013

SHREK should please many at Mercury Summer Stock

SHREK has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. It is based on the 1990 book SHREK! by William Steig, as well as the 2001 DreamWorks film.  The musical opened in New York in December of 2008, after much rewriting and many cast changes,  and ran for 441 performances.  The script was changed for the touring production, and has been altered more since it was released for nonprofessional productions.  There were additions and deletions of songs, for example, a new opening and I’m a Believer, one of the most endearing tunes, was changed from exit music for the audience to being the last song of the show.

The story concerns a swamp-dwelling ogre who, as a child, was sent away by his parents to find his own path.  Big, green and ugly, the belching, gas passer, goes on a life-changing adventure when his land is invaded by a slew of fairy tale characters (e.g., Pinocchio, Wicked Witch, Sugar Plum Fairy, the 3 Bears, Peter Pan, Ugly Ducking and Big Bad Wolf) and by the mean, vertically challenged Lord Farquaad.  In order to get his land back, Shrek must rescue Fiona, a cursed lovely princess, fight a dragon, and figure out what to do with a smart-mouthed talking donkey, who becomes his “best friend.”  Hey, this is a fairy tale, remember?  All in all, the ridiculousness in the script works, and works well.  And, yes, there is a happily ever after ending.

The music is infectious.  I defy anyone to sit through “I’m a Believer” and not rock and roll in your seat.  Other highlights include:  “I Know It’s Today,” “Who I’d Be,” and the very funny “Don’t Let Me Go.”

Several years ago, when I reviewed the Key Bank Broadway touring production of SHREK, The Musical, my capsule judgement was:  “I’m a sucker for a well staged, fun musical.   SHREK fits the bill.  I left humming the songs and smiling as many of the kids and adults walked out proudly stating that they had became believers!”

I wish I could say the same thing about Mercury Summer Theatre’s production of the script.  To be honest, I can’t, but that’s not to indicate that others might not be delighted by the production.

One of the things that many theatre-goers don’t take into account when they see a play is that there are different production levels of theatres, with resulting different levels for what happens on stages.   These differences affect how reviews of a show are written.

It’s my belief that when I see a show on Broadway, I should be expecting the best of the best.  Same goes for a Broadway touring production and to a somewhat lesser degree at the Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theatre.  These are all professional theatres who employ actors, directors, choreographers, costumers, and other technical people who are, are should be, at the top level of production skills.  Local theatres, such as Beck Center for the Arts and Dobama, who pay their casts and performers are doing so because they are trying to get the best  of the best of those who are available on the local scene.   Their cast lists are filled with names followed by a *, indicating that the actor is in Actors Equity.  They also employ paid production teams.

Community theatres, who usually depend on lots of volunteers who find theatre “fun,” or who are putting out effort to learn the craft of theatre, often don’t reach the level of the “pros.”  That’s not to say just because someone gets paid, or has a union card, that they are better than the volunteers, but the latter often don’t have the experience, training or time to be major participants in the theatre.

Mercury Summer Stock is a community theatre.  Though they have actors in their casts who are Equity, most of their performers are high school and college students who do theatre for the love of doing theatre.  The company also uses short rehearsal times.  They operate on a shoestring budget and have limited staffs.

Therefore, seeing a production at Mercury normally can’t be compared to the Broadway, touring or local professional theatres.  That’s not a knock on Mercury, just an explanation of why, in spite of saying their production, no matter if your child, grandchild or next door neighbor is in the cast, or your friends are an integral part of running the theatre, to say that their productions are “better than Broadway,” usually isn’t so.  The same can be said for Weathervane, Chagrin Valley Little Theatre or any of the other community theatres.   Again, it’s not a knock on them, just reality.

MSS’s SHREK will delight many.  Several members of the cast are outstanding for a production at this level.  Kudos to Sara Masterson, who makes for a beautiful Princess Fiona and makes such songs as Morning Person and Who I’d Be (sung with Patrick Ciamacco--Shrek, and Justin Woody--Donkey) show pleasers.

Justin Woody is generally joyful as Donkey, but needed a little more abandonment, especially in the first act.   By the second stanza, he was flying high.

Patrick Ciamacco is the vision of Shrek, though, at times, he needed to further texture his role and up-play some of the farcical scenes.   I Think I Got You Beat, his duet with Masterson, was delightful as was their burping and passing gas scene.  His strong voice soared in the reprise of Big Bright, Beautiful World.

Kelvette Beacham wailed as the Dragon in Forever, while Elise Pakiela was princess-cute as Young Fiona and Brian Marshall delights as the puppet garbed dwarfed Lord Farquaad.

Ed Carney’s orchestra was excellent, but there were vocal blend issues with some of the chorus segments.

Pierre-Jacques Brault’s choreography was enthusiastic and generally creative, but not always smoothly executed.  Some of the staging worked well, while straight lines, and people ducking behind others after speaking their lines created some distracting stage pictures.  Many individual characterizations were on target (e.g., Max Joseph as Peter Pan).  Others, especially the actors who attempted to “sound” like their fairy tale characters, squeaked and screeched to the detriment of clarity of characterization and being understood.

The puppet designs by PJ’s Puppets were delightful.  Falcon Stage Productions sets, especially the hand manipulated center stage turntable and the folding flats, distracted from the flow of the show.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  SHREK is a creative script.  The Mercury Summer Stock production will delight many.  This is a community theatre production, and, a fairly acceptable one.
SHREK runs through June 29 at Mercury Summer Stock.  Call 216-771-5862 or go to for tickets.

Mercury’s next show is RAGTIME, from July 5-20, in the company’s home at Notre Dame College in South Euclid.