Monday, December 15, 2008

Were Shrek Critics Ogres?

Were Shrek Critics Ogres?

Yesterday, Shrek The Musical opened at the Great White Way's Broadway Theatre. With score by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the show's book, this incarnation of Shrek is directed by Jason Moore and choreographed by Josh Prince. The tuner stars Brian d'Arcy James, Sutton Foster and Daniel Breaker.

Critics were mixed.

The best review came from USA Today's Elysa Gardner, who embraced the show with three and a half (out of four) stars: "Like other musical adaptations of hit films, Shrek, which opened Sunday at the Broadway Theatre, leans heavily on winking satire. There are the usual nods to more fully realized shows, from Gypsy to A Chorus Line, and Jeanine Tesori's blandly ingratiating score doesn't feature any songs you're likely to be humming 20 years from now. But Shrek, which draws from William Steig's book about a lovable ogre and the DreamWorks animated movie that it inspired, is nonetheless a triumph of comic imagination with a heart as big and warm as Santa's. It is the most ingeniously wacky, transcendently tasteless Broadway musical since The Producers, and more family-friendly than that gag-fest."

Calling it "sweet and busy, nice and big, and, every so often, extremely lovable," Newsday's Linda Winer is lukewarm: "The fact that Shrek makes us think more about its market than its achievements, alas, says something about the shortage of real inspiration in the show itself. Director Jason Moore's production has an extraordinary cast -- including Brian d'Arcy James as a deeply endearing hulk of an ogre -- and marvelous prosthetics for the swamp-green monster with the plunger ears and Cyrano nose. But given the beloved source, not to mention a seriously bright creative team, we can be forgiven for expecting more than a paint-by-numbers fractured fairy tale from DreamWorks' first challenge to Disney on Broadway."

Despite concluding that "Shrek: The Musical plays it safe," New York Post's Barbara Hoffman awards three out of four stars: "[I]t takes nearly all of Act 1 before Shrek: The Musical starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive.... With a soft Scottish drawl that hews close to Mike Myers' original, Brian d'Arcy James gives us a multilayered ogre -- a mix of vexation, anger, humor and woe -- made all the more amazing by the fact he's emoting through green rubber. He has a fine voice and a warm rapport with Princess Fiona (the unsinkable Sutton Foster)."

Noting how Shrek "certainly has things to like, even if it's sometimes ungainly," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News offers a mixed assessment: "When (Foster)'s onstage singing, dancing or burping (Fiona's a princess, but not so fair), the production comes close to achieving liftoff. But by and large, it stays earthbound - fine, not great. The same goes for the score by lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori. It never soars, but the songs are pleasant and fit the story."

Branding it a "leaden fairy-tale-theme costume party," The New York Times' Ben Brantley is not completely dismissive: "Aside from a few jolly sequences (nearly all featuring the hypertalented Ms. Foster), this cavalcade of storybook effigies feels like 40 blocks’ worth of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, accompanied by an exhaustingly jokey running commentary. Shrek, for the record, is not bad. The maiden Broadway venture of DreamWorks Theatricals (a stage-oriented arm of the company that made the movie), in association with Neal Street Productions, it is definitely a cut above the most recent offerings from its creators’ direct competitor in cartoon-inspired musicals, Walt Disney."

Asking, "Why isn’t Shrek the Musical great?" Bloomberg's John Simon is every bit as tepid: "The good news is that it is done very well; the bad news is that it is done at all. When is the musical theater going to learn to let cartoons lie? Not that William Steig’s original book and its serial movie animations are bad, but they are terminally self-sufficient. A big, expensive Broadway musical needs to have grown-up as well as kiddie appeal.... Under Jason Moore’s sprightly direction, the performances are uniformly engaging. Multitalented d’Arcy James’s Shrek is as lovable as an ogre with bad breath and other odors can be, and then some. As Fiona -- even after sundown, when she turns into an unsightly ogress -- Foster is as enchanting as ever, with unbeatable comic timing and singing and dancing to match."

Given last week's dismal box office -- Shrek only attracted a capacity of just 52.3% -- producers had to be hoping for much better reviews than they received. They'll now have to pin their hopes on building buzz among Broadway audiences if they're to make it past January.

This is Steve On Broadway.

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At 15 December, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I think it was the first week of previews when I saw Shrek. There were a few things I liked about it but overall, I just found it uninspiring and even a little boring. I was really disappointed. (Although people were laughing.) Still, I'm glad it got some good reviews. I'd rather have a new show succeed on Broadway as opposed to the alternative. Maybe this one just wasn't for me. Out of everything I saw during my week in New York, Shrek was my least favorite.

At 16 December, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The show was ment to be funny and light.
I think reviewers need to lighten up and enjoy
Going home was the first time I belched infront of my kids.


At 16 December, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, As you know, first week of previews may not necessarily be anywhere close to the final result critics were reviewing, and we know that major changes were implemented prior to the last week of previews.

At 16 December, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Marketman, Judging from your response, it sounds like your belch, er, buzz will be great!

At 16 December, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

You're absolutely right about the preview process. I do have to give Shrek the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I saw Jeanine Tesori, the composer, at the performance I attended and I'm sure other members of the creative team were there, too.


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