SHREK-tacular Opening at Milburn Stone Theatre!

by Ruth K. Brown

A Social Security-receiving theatrical reviewer is asked to comment on a low brow, family friendly movie transformed into a musical for production on stage. One might ask what will happen when these two seemingly disparate entities meet? There might be social concerns about the appreciation of a song which ends in a literal explosion of burps and farts. There might be literary concerns about the story of an ogre trying to rescue a princess to regain the swamp he calls home. There might be general concerns about hours of loud music, make believe characters, dancing skeletons and rats and a pink dragon thrown in for good measure.

What actually happens at Milburn Stone Theatre (MST) and their production of SHREK is an evening of fun, laughs and enough adult-level jokes to keep people entertained who have not seen their pre-teen years in decades. SHREK, as directed by S. Lee Lewis with a cast of 50+ is bombastic! SHREK is ebullient! SHREK is vivid, vibrant and vivacious! Most credit goes to the ability of these actors to inhabit the main characters and to make the audience care about them.

Gannon Webb as Pinocchio, Eyvo as Donkey and the Fairytale Ensemble.
(Photo credit: Scott Serio, Cecil Scene)

Lewis has cast well for Shrek (Dickie Mahoney), Donkey (Eyvo), Fiona (Shereen Ahmed) and the diminuitive Lord Farquaad (Jamie Mikijanic). An actor might be tempted to rely on the extensive costuming for help, but none of these actors do. Their energy is contagious and the physical fearlessness of Ahmed, Eyvo and Mikijanic lead to theatrical moments of hilarity. Since SHREK was developed from a well known movie, actors might also want to adapt mannerisms and vocalities that have already been proven. Instead, Lewis and his actors imbue these characters with their own kind of believability in a fairy land. Mahoney gives a human, vulnerable performance as the big green ogre. Eyvo is delightful as he romps untiringly around the stage keeping up his animated chatter. Ahmed claims the prize for most multi-faceted character. Ahmed changes from an scared girl with a secret to a confident young woman who knows her future and won’t even let ‘true love’ get in the way. The song “I Know It’s Today” which is sung as a well-staged trio with a child, teen and adult Fiona reinforces how Fiona has grown. Ahmed brings her to life. Mikijanic gives a performance full of equal parts of Napoleonic arrogance and energetic physical movements that could make one’s knees just ache.

In addition to these main players, the fairyland characters add jokes and support to the plot. Kudos to Gay Lynn Price and the myriad others who must have been involved to present such a colorful assemblage of costuming … each unique in its own way but more than enough to make each character recognizable. Theatrical bits of “trickery” allow us to hear the Gingerbread Man (Rebekah Latshaw) and to see Pinnochio’s (Gannon Webb) nose actually grow when his truthfulness falters.

Bambi Johnson once more amazes with her ability to make her dance corps appear so coordinated. The tapping rats and the creeping skeletons were most memorable. With everything requiring size and color to make its point, Lewis and the set crew moved large pieces and flew others to create fairyland scenes where our heroes could interact. Effective use of the front curtain closure when major changes were being made helped to maintain the energy and pacing of the production. Lewis also explored the usage of the catwalks to bring the audience into the action by floating to them bubbles, tinsel and confetti. When the stage wasn’t quite “enough”, Lewis brought characters through the house or placed them in the balcony spaces (not otherwise occupied by hanging vines or greenery) to further complement what was happening on stage.

This is a delightful production performed by quality actors who everyone should be seeing around the area on other stages. As has been mentioned before, the sound system at MST is badly in need of replacement so there were moments when sound levels or mixing failed those on stage leaving the audience unable to hear them. Hopefully, the MST tech crew was able to correct the opening night issue leaving Shrek without amplification as he began his story. The future shows planned this season at MST will need ALL technical aspects operating at full efficiency. Let’s all go to see SHREK and keep our fingers crossed!

Book and lyrics by: David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by: Jeanine Tesori
Music Recording Provided by: The MT PIT L.L.C.
Directed by: S. Lee Lewis
August 23 – September 8, 2013
The Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901

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