There are a lot of people working hard to get laughs and entertain in the Manatee Players production of “Shrek: The Musical.” But they don’t have the material to support their efforts.
The show’s area premiere features some beautiful costumes, magically moving sets, impactful lighting and a few charming performances.
But they don’t add up to a lot in this musical, based on the hit animated film, which never takes flight quite the way you want or expect it to. It’s more an issue with the musical itself than how it is staged.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s script and lyrics and Jeanine Tesori’s occasionally bouncy or tender songs don’t create the kind of spontaneous hilarity familiar to fans of the film.
Director and choreographer Rick Kerby has staged the show with an intended sense of fun, and there are moments that had me chuckling.
Granted, I saw the final preview with an invited audience Wednesday night. But the show moved smoothly and efficiently and looked more than ready for Thursday’s official opening night.
The bigger problem is that what happens on stage isn’t all that funny, free-spirited or tuneful as we follow the adventures of the green ogre Shrek as he tries to get some peace and quiet in his part of the swamp. Some fairytale characters have been sent to live nearby by the wicked Lord Farquaad, who promises Shrek some relief if he’ll rescue Princess Fiona, who is locked in a tall tower. Shrek doesn’t expect to fall in love with Fiona or become friends with a conniving and fast-talking Donkey who helps him along the way.
Kerby is working with a group of game performers, led by Brian Chunn, who is strong as the angry and gaseous Shrek, with his green skin, tubular ears and big belly. He is nicely paired with Sarah Cassidy as the spunky Fiona, who is not your typical princess.
Whitney Mignon Reed has good spirit as Donkey, though she talks too fast at times, and Mike Thompson looks like he’s having a grand time shuffling on his knees as the vertically challenged and scheming Farquaad.
There’s also a cleverly designed flying dragon by Carianne Hoff that moves nicely in blacklight, but becomes tiresome during the song “Forever,” which seems to last that long.
Ken Mooney has designed a large array of colorful costumes that give life to familiar fairy tale characters, particularly the wooden arms and legs of Pinocchio played by Chris McCoy. You also get to meet Humpty Dumpty, Peter Pan and a cross-dressing Big Bad Wolf, among others. Those costumes work well with Kirk V. Hughes’ set, which easily shifts from Shrek’s swamp to a moody forest and Farquaad’s castle.
The settings are all well lit by Mike Wood and a good amount of fog.
Musical Director Rick Bogner leads an orchestra that puts punch and feeling into the music, though the musicians occasionally overwhelm the singers.
By the end, however, it all seemed like a lot of effort and money went into a show with limited rewards.
SHREK: THE MUSICAL
Music by Jeanine Tesori book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed and choreographed by Rick Kerby. Reviewed Feb. 12, Manatee Players, 503 3rd Ave., West, Bradenton. Through March 2. Tickets are $27-$37; $15-$18 for teachers; $13-$16 for students. 748-5875; manateeplayers.com