REVIEW: Shrek, the Musical, Junior; A Pungently Perfect Production!

Who knew that a show at our elegant Washington Pavilion would include a farting contest? Well, I should have; it was Shrek the Musical, Jr. after all.  It’s playing in the Belbas Theater and runs through this weekend. The show is a culmination of the efforts of directors Bob Wendland and Molly Wilson, who wrangled more than sixty students ranging in age from 8-18.   The production is sponsored by the Dakota Academy of Performing Arts, which works exclusively with young people in the Sioux Empire.

The efforts of the directors has paid off in an impressive show that fills the Belbas stage with music and laughter.  It was truly a joy to see the array of young talent from our city in action.  Not only was there dialogue, delivered with great comic timing, but there was singing, choreography and, wait for it,…….tap dancing RATS!  Rather than a big budget show, the production is an immersive educational experience for the students.  You won’t see pyrotechnics or fancy equipment, but the costumes and simple props do their job, transporting the audience to the fairy tale kingdom of Duloc.

Our hero is Shrek, a grumpy, green ogre who lives in a swamp and likes his solitude. One day he comes home to find his muddy abode overrun with dozens of fairy tale characters including Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf.  Shrek is none too happy with this development and sets off to Duloc Castle to reclaim his property from Lord Farquaad.

To his dismay, Shrek gains a travel partner, a talking donkey who will not shut up.  Arriving at the castle he is informed by Lord Farquaad that his swamp will be returned if he completes a “simple task”.  He must rescue the Princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded tower, and bring her to Duloc to be Farquaad’s bride.   Our Shrek,  fearless and always on task, sets off, with Donkey in tow.

Along the way we meet, as the Old Woman in The Shoe would say, “So many characters we don’t know what to do”.  Each one has its own personality and is accented by colorful costumes.  

Coleman Peterson, as Shrek, shows significant talent as a vocalist, and delivers his lines with solid timing and facial expression.  He plays Shrek without a heavy Irish brogue, and that’s okay.  He has just enough of the blarney, and his voice successfully presents the character’s anger, laughter, and, at times, tenderness.

Maddie Lumkoski, as the adult Fiona, was stellar.  Her lines were clean and her songs emotive and lovely.  As a musical theater performer, her body movement and facial expressions were spot on for the character.  We could tell what Fiona had in mind.

All of these young actors were terrific, but I have to say that my favorite character was Donkey, played by Chris Larson.  His costume was perfect, as was his comic timing.  I dare say that I preferred his delivery to that of the Donkey that came with the traveling Broadway show a couple of years ago.  Larson’s face and voice, along with his dopey gait, were enough to keep me cracking up throughout the show.

Other stand-outs included the Young Fiona, adorably played by Sophia Santos, Pinocchio and his nose, portrayed by Cody Novotny, and the Big Bad Wolf in a granny dress and pearls, played by Josh Sauer, with hilarious mannerisms. (Disclaimer:  Ok, so the Big Bad Wolf is my kid, I have to name him, but he was good!)

The Gingerbread Man was brought to life by Hannah Sayler as she expertly coordinated her voice and puppeteering skills.  A great performance by Adam Greenfield brought us the obnoxious Lord Farquaad,  and the ethereal, yet menacing Dragon was played by Malia Lukomski, with assistance from Manon Miller, Kyla Smith and Irelynn White.

Behind the scenes were Student Director, Abby Neff and Assistant Stage Manager, Charley Larson.  They handled their jobs well.  I saw no missed cues; only a twisted backdrop mishap, which was handled quickly.

Again, ALL of the characters were wonderful in their own right.  Parents will enjoy the show, but it is strong enough to present to the general public.   It moves quickly and runs just over 90 minutes with an intermission.  The Belbas is a comfy, casual venue where every seat is a good one.  Unfortunately, a check on the Pavilion website shows that all performances have now sold out!

I can guarantee that these kids learned more than lines and choreography while working on this project.   This was a full on immersive lesson in respect, teamwork, listening and follow through.  And that’s the thing about theater, it’s more than just putting on a show.  It’s a building ground for social skills, confidence and self esteem.

Coming up this summer, “Guys & Dolls, Jr.”,  a camp for kids ages 10-14, and Shakespeare Camp, created for older students ages 14-18.

Check out the website   https://www.washingtonpavilion.org/online/   for an array of youth opportunities!

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