The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
Walking into the Penn State New Kensington theater lobby, I was immediately inundated with a sea of enthusiastic friends and family. The parent volunteers had set up tables lining the hallway with raffle baskets, green-colored concessions, and posters with all the previous St. Joseph High School productions. Seeing all this, it was clear to me that the heart and soul of the cast, crew, and even their family members had been invested in this production long before it opened.
“Shrek: the Musical” is the story of a benign, green ogre who spends his days on a deserted swamp just outside the city of Duloc until a gaggle of storybook characters (Pinocchio, the White Rabbit, Humpty Dumpty, you name it.) show up claiming to have been exiled from Duloc by the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad. Shrek, extraordinarily bothered by this invasion of his privacy, agrees to go into Duloc and convince Lord Farquaad to let the characters come back into the city.
When he arrives, Farquaad strikes a deal: if Shrek can rescue the fair Princess Fiona from her tower and bring her to Duloc, he will remove the characters from Shrek’s swamp. Along with the effervescent Donkey, Shrek sets out to rescue the princess. When Shrek and Fiona begin their return to Duloc, their relationship begins to evolve and they are both forced to consider replacing the life they always pictured having with the life they might have together.
Mitch Farrell, Shrek himself, was masterful in his interpretation of the character without giving us an exact replica of the cartoon. Everything from his speaking voice to his movements was warranted and purposeful. In addition to his very technical performance, he maintained the emotional connection to the story that could potentially be lost when focusing so strongly on a dialect and specific physicality. Another standout performance was Eric Praniewicz as Lord Farquaad; his shameless portrayal of the outlandish character produced the most raucous laughter of the evening. The audience looked forward to the moments that he was on stage.
The costumer, Barb Kalina, deserves a round of applause for the designs she created on a significantly smaller budget than many other high schools in Allegheny County. The detail and purposefulness of every single costume did wonders for the story. Without her impeccable creations, the story of “Shrek” would not be bought to life in the same manner.
In set design, this production had a harder time pulling off the intricacies of each location needed. They adopted a sparkly green curtain that was dropped when a set change was needed. This was a great solution, however, the curtain was translucent so I spent the majority of the time it was down staring at the set change happening behind it. This significant distraction interrupted the flow of the plot and took me out of the world of “Shrek.” Another aspect that pulled me out of the plot was the sound. The microphones were poor quality. I found myself straining to hear during many of the most important moments of the plot.
“Shrek: the Musical” is not an easy show to produce. It requires a slew of different costumes, multiple sets, prosthetics, and a cast of strong voices with impeccable comedic timing. St. Joseph’s production of this tale had all the makings of a wonderful performance, even though some sound and set issues inhibited the audience from getting lost in the story.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.