Not that we need additional evidence, but anyone who doubts the quality of musical-theater talent in Kansas City should check out “Shrek the Musical” at the Coterie.
The show, which opened on Broadway in 2008, is based on the Dreamworks animated film about an ogre and a princess who find true love. The stage version was created by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori.
Jeff Church, the Coterie’s artistic director, does something he’s done before: Edited, abbreviated and rearranged the material with the creators’ participation as a one-act musical that can be performed for young audiences.
We should tip our hat to Church for snagging the performance rights. It’s unusual for a regional theater to stage a show that is still touring. This abridgement keeps the most salient qualities of the original: a goofy sense of humor, characters with heart and an irresistible message. That message, delivered sweetly and convincingly, argues that all of us, no matter how strange we may be, deserve a shot at happiness. When the company sings “Freak Flag,” an anthem that promotes the notion that oddballs and weirdos should come out of the closet, the natural urge is to sing along. If you’re a freak, that is.
Ample humor is provided by the principal players but much of the show’s comedic success is attributable directly to costume designer Georgianna Buchanan, who outdoes herself yet again. The outfit for sawed-off Lord Farquad is worth the price of admission alone.
The production showcases some formidable musical-theater actors — some of the best in the city, in fact. Tim Scott taps into his innate weirdness and expert comic timing as Lord Farquad and a couple of other characters. Dana Joel Nicholson plays the title character, a green ogre with a Scottish accent, with considerable charm and deadpan humor. Tosin Morohunfola, who seems to always bring something extra to any role he performs, threatens to steal the show as Donkey.
Lauren Braton reveals herself to be an instinctive comic actress in addition to being an exceptional singer. I’ve never seen Braton in a role that required as much broad, low-brow humor as Princess Fiona, but Braton delivers the goods with gusto.
The songs are performed live to backing tracks arranged and recorded by music director Anthony Edwards. Jeremy Watson, who served as associate musical director, helped out on the vocal arrangements. As I’ve noticed in other shows using pre-recorded tracks, there are moments when the music threatens to drown out the actors and others when it isn’t loud enough.
The Coterie’s performance space, as usual, presents big challenges to anyone staging a show there but Church uses the space as effectively as possible.
Nice supporting performances are registered by Tyler Eisenreich as Pinocchio and Enjoli Gavin as the Dragon, while Steven Eubank does amusing quadruple duty as the Wolf and several other characters. Eric Ranay Rush appears as the Wicked Witch but also handles the funniest bits in show — first as the voice of the dismembered Ginger Bread Man and as an exploding songbird (represented by a hand puppet).
Marc Wayne provides some inventive choreography. The set design by Erin Walley suggests a child’s drawing, Art Kent’s lighting makes a big contribution and Alex Espy’s prop designs are quite amusing.
The cast also includes 12 kids who alternate in groups of six. They are essentially ensemble performers who play small background roles. The performers at the opening Friday night contributed energy and obvious talent.