Civic’s ‘Shrek’ full of imagination and creativity

September 11, 2018

Talk about surprises! Rochester Civic Theatre’s production of “Shrek: The Musical,”which opened Friday, is full of them.

Don’t dare let your attention wander during this show or you’ll miss something totally unexpected. There is no way to predict what is going to come next, whether it’s a one of many tossed-off one-liners or an exploding bird or a really scary dragon.

But the biggest surprise of all might be the backdrop for this show. “Shrek” is presented in front of two large screens on which are projected digital backgrounds designed by Kevin Dobbe. Imagine zooming in from above on Lord Farquaad’s castle, or entering Shrek’s swamp, with the clouds moving across the sky and the leaves on the trees shaking with the breeze. It’s a breathtaking innovation and works perfectly with this production.

Credit for most of the rest of the magic goes to director Misha Johnson, who has taken what she did with last season’s “The Addams Family Musical” and made “Shrek” even more crowd-pleasing.

Johnson has attracted a large cast of talented young performers, several making their Civic stage debuts. For starters, there’s George Skare, one of those first-timers, in the lead role as Shrek. Also debuting is Mike Skillern in a hilarious turn as Lord Farquaad. The crowd loved Dre Withers as Donkey. And don’t forget Chelsea Indrehus as a sassy Princess Fiona. There are, in total, 31 actors and dancers on stage, and that doesn’t include the pit orchestra.

In her program notes, Johnson writes movingly about how this play, with its emphasis on being happy with who you are, and being comfortable with who others are, is needed in today’s world. “Shrek” delivers that message without ever hitting us over the head. To be sure, this is an irreverent and subversive show — but it is presented in such a way as to be lovable as well.

Besides, how can you get too worked up about a belching competition between Shrek and Fiona? The kids of all ages in Friday’s audience absolutely loved it.

On the other hand, despite everything that’s going on here, from dancers to props to costumes to songs, the show does begin to feel long. Not all of it is seamless, not all of it is note-perfect. But nearly all of it is full of imagination and creativity.

We left the theater with just one question: Who did Shrek want to have pay for the wall that he at one point threatened to build around his home swamp?

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