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Theater review: 'Shrek: the Musical' silly, subversive fun

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 6:01 p.m. MDT

Whitney Winfield performs as Fiona with a chorus line of tap-dancing rats in "Morning Person" from "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment) Whitney Winfield performs as Fiona with a chorus line of tap-dancing rats in "Morning Person" from "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment)

“Shrek the Musical,” Capitol Theatre, through March 3, $32.50-$62.50, 801-355-2787 or Arttix.org

It’s not the best ever animated-film-to-theater adaptation, but “Shrek the Musical” is still a whole lotta silly, enchanting, colorful fun.

While Disney reigns as lion king and the belle of Broadway in transporting animated movies to the stage, this is DreamWork’s first romp in the swamp. So cut the stinky ogre some slack. Join all the 6-year-olds surrounding you in the theater who have strapped on their headbands of tiny tubular ears, and Princess Fiona might just make you a daisy chain.

The show is equal parts adult fairy tale, Broadway musical and live re-enactment of the film — and not too dissimilar from a stage show you’d typically see on a theme park stage.

Perry Sook stars as Shrek, Jeremy Gaston as Donkey and Whitney Winfield as Fiona in "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment) Perry Sook stars as Shrek, Jeremy Gaston as Donkey and Whitney Winfield as Fiona in "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment)

There’s more backstory in the musical than the first Shrek film. Telling three stories simultaneously is clunky in the first act, but Act 2 pays off. Audiences learn how Fiona ended up in the tower, what made Shrek so cranky (hint: his father was really Grumpy) and the source of Lord Farquaad’s hatred of fairy-tale characters.

Beneath the pounds of padding, prosthetics and thick makeup, there’s an actor named Perry Sook playing the green goodness of a title character. He’s just fine in creating a likable and sympathetic character, but he makes Shrek more tired and worn-out than misunderstood gentle giant. Jeremy Gaston plays Donkey. You know, the role created by Eddie Murphy. Donkey has some good comic lines and they should be at least amusing if not bring-down-the house humorous, but Gaston is as captivating as, well, a donkey — a barnyard donkey, not the motor-mouthed, wise-cracking Donkey we expect.

Christian Marriner performs as Lord Farquaad with ensemble players in "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment) Christian Marriner performs as Lord Farquaad with ensemble players in "Shrek the Musical." (LvR / paparazzibyappointment)

Along with an energetic and eager-to-please ensemble, the show’s performance strength comes from Christian Marriner as the evil Farquaad and Whitney Winfield as spunky Fiona.

Marriner was last seen in Salt Lake as Luther Billis in the “South Pacific” tour and brings all that same charisma. Flipping back his Prince Valiant hair and flashing an arrogant smile, Marriner is slyly subversive and absurdly grandiose, even while performing his role almost entirely on his knees.

As the down-to-earth princess, Winfield is both spirited and wistful, and she’s having a ball playing the role. She's a hoot when joined by a chorus line of tap-dancing rats in "Morning Person," which opens with a borrowed creative innovation from "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine."

An homage to Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better),” “I Think I Got You Beat” is a hilarious burping and gas-passing contest. There are also a few quick references to iconic shows, from “Gypsy” to “Dreamgirls,” without overextending the often evoked gag.

The bouncy choreography by Josh Prince is a delight. The set, costume and puppet designs by Tim Hatley are wildly inventive. For the tour, he’s tamed the 25-foot dragon that slayed him with all kinds of problems in New York.

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