Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. And the Cape Fear Regional Theatre production of Shrek the Musical has enough multifaceted layers to make it surprisingly entertaining.
Inspired by the 2001 Academy Award-winning animated movie, Shrek the Musical follows everyone’s favorite ogre on his quest to rid his beloved swamp of the fairytale creatures that have been relocated there by Duloc’s pint-sized oligarch Lord Farquaad. Unlike the movie, however, which featured a host of popular songs, the musical features an original score by Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change) and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole).
Leading the charge in this production, as the title character Shrek, is a rugged Nicholas J. Pearson. Pearson’s portrayal of Shrek strikes the perfect balance between bearish beast and vulnerable lamb. Becca Vourvoulas is full of boundless energy as the perky Princess Fiona. And handily delivering the most taxing, comedic, and physically demanding performance of the entire production, is an artful Gabe Belyeu as Lord Farquaad.
The multigenerational ensemble is harmonious, syncopated, and positively charming. Ayana Washington nearly stops the show as the Dragon with one electrifying vocal solo. And Thao Nguyen demonstrated his agility as a performer last week, stepping in and covering for Marc de la Concha faultlessly as Donkey.
Director Tiffany Green expertly maintains the high-spiritedness and brisk pace of the show, never once allowing the production to falter or take itself too seriously. And while there are plenty of nods to the film, there are some noticeable differences in the stage adaptation that may vex diehard brogres. Still, there is plenty of flatulent humor, puppetry, and stage magic to keep the kids amused and just enough innuendo, pop culture, and musical theater references to keep the grownups engaged.
Admittedly, I wasn’t too thrilled to make the trek from Raleigh to Fayetteville to spend some quality swamp time with Shrek. However, this production won me over with its humor, the underlying message of acceptance, and most of all, its heart. And apparently, I’m not alone. Nineteen performances have already sold out and an additional week of shows has been added. That gives you ample time to saddle up your noble steed and plan a little road trip of your own.