Take your typical fairy tale story, throw in every random character you can think of, and shake it all up. What comes out is Shrek, first as a children’s book, then the hugely successful Dreamworks animated film, and finally a Broadway musical. This is a story where the monsters are the heroes, and the usual heroes turn out to be bad guys, or merely freaks themselves. The message is to accept everyone for who they are, and there’s a lot of fun to be had delivering that message.
El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) is presenting Shrek the Musical for the first time, and opened Friday at Folsom’s Harris Center for the Arts. EDMT is the high-quality youth theatre company that presents five major musicals each season. Shrek is one of their “Encore Shows,” meaning the cast is audition only, and 12 years or older. Though all of the EDMT shows are professional-level productions, Encore Shows are always a highlight for the best talent.
Most of us are familiar with the Shrek movie; starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz; and the stage musical follows the same basic story, with the addition of music by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire. The story opens with young ogre Shrek being sent away by his parents, and dozens of familiar fairytale characters are banished from their home to the swamp Shrek has claimed for his own. Though presented tongue-in-cheek, it is a fairly somber opening. But when Shrek, played by Zach Wilson, meets Donkey, played by Stephen Noble, the shows starts to come alive.
Zach Wilson is starring in his 42nd EDMT show, and fans of the company have seen him grow from the little kid with glasses, in shows like Peter Pan, to become a leading man for the company, with roles like the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, and Cornelius in Hello Dolly. Under costuming and make-up, he inhabits the role of Shrek and makes it his own. He and Stephen Noble wisely take very little from Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in their characterizations of the reluctant buddies, with just a hint of Myers’ Scottish accent and Murphy’s streetwise Donkey. They have great moments together throughout the show in songs like “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Travel Song” as they build their relationship.
The show really takes off with the introduction of Lord Farquaad, brilliantly played by Dalton Johnson. The “vertically challenged” Farquaar bursts on the scene with the company of Dulac Dancers—the people of the kingdom of Dulac all dressed in exactly the same colorful outfits—and sings “What’s Up Dulac?” Channeling a bit of Jim Carrey in the role, Johnson portrays the primping, short-tempered ruler of the land with great humor, lighting up the stage with his cocky attitude, great singing, and “special-effect” dancing (which you have to see to believe.)
The most effective scene of the show comes with the introduction of the fourth lead character, Princess Fiona. We meet her locked in her castle tower, as 13-year-old Emily Hobbs sings “I Know It’s Today,” hoping her dreams will come true. My first impression was “Wow, she’s a great singer, but she’s kind of young to be the leading lady.” But then she transforms into Nittany Biggs as “Teen Fiona,” and then Kelly Maur as our true grown-up leading lady. The three then complete the song in lovely three part harmony. Maur, who is in her 23rd EDMT show, later joins Wilson and Noble in another wonderful moment when the three sing “Who’d I Be” as they each express their inner hopes in interweaving melodies, closing the first act.
Another standout scene is the appearance of the great dragon that guards the castle where Fiona is held prisoner. As the actual dragon appears on stage, she is voiced by a three-part girl group, played by Jordan Soto, Emily Matorana, and Jocelyn Haney. Dressed like a classic 60s group like the Supremes, they show the dragon’s affections for Donkey in the songs “Forever” and “This is How a Dream Comes True.” It’s a clever way to present the story, and the girls do a great job singing and acting the part of the diva dragon. Other great numbers featuring the whole company are Fiona’s song “Morning Person,” which features the Pied Piper (Evan Martorana) and his tap dancing rats, and the closing song, “I’m A Believer”, written by Neil Diamond and featuring the appropriate lyrics “I thought love was only true in fairy tales, meant for someone else, but not for me…But then I saw her face, now I’m a believer.”
That old lesson that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” told by artists from Ray Stevens to Mr. Rogers, is delivered in a fun, uplifting and funny way by Shrek the Musical, and presented by EDMT in their usual high quality by Director Debbie Wilson, supported by Producer Alicia Soto, Vocal Director Jennifer Wittmayer, and Costumer Christine Martorana, with help from countless volunteers, including several cast members. Wilson said they had over 100 wigs and 10 racks of costumes ready for the 36 performers, the highest rack-to-performer ratio they’ve ever had, with over 400 costume pieces in the “What’s Up Dulac” number alone.
Shrek the Musical opened February 24 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until March 5. The show is great entertainment, not just for families with kids, but for anyone who enjoys a good musical comedy. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net.
Ken Kiunke 2/25/2017 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
Stephen Noble, Zach Wilson, Kelly Maur, and Dalton Johnson bring Shrek to life.
The beloved tale of Dorothy and her journey through Oz has returned to The El Dorado Musical Theater, opening the new season as a Main Stage production, featuring performers from ages 7 to 19. There are two entirely different casts performing alternating shows—the “Ruby” and “Emerald” casts. I saw the Ruby cast on opening night, Friday, so this review will feature those performers. Whichever one you may see, in EDMT shows the alternating casts are always of equally high quality.
Of course we all know the story, images, and songs of The Wizard of Oz. For kids growing up in the “baby boomer” generation, the movie was an annual event—almost as important as Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was shown on television once a year from 1959 to 1991, and until it was released on VHS video in 1980, that was the only way we could see it. But we were glued to the set each year, and Oz became a cultural institution, far more than it was after its 1939 theatrical release. For the generations growing up in the 80’s and beyond, it was available on home video and frequently on cable TV, so though it retained much of its popularity and found new audiences, it lost that “special event” feeling. But the characters and story endured, with new versions and interpretations of L. Frank Baum’s magical tale filling the cultural landscape. “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking,” “I’ll get you my pretty—and your little dog too!” and many other phrases became part of the social lexicon of America.
EDMT has presented The Wizard of Oz twice before, in 2004 and 2009. But this new version has greatly expanded the special effects, with large scale animated projections, flying effects, and a few more surprises. The big events, such as the tornado, are handled with a combination of projected animations and on-stage interpretive dance. High quality set pieces, such as the farm, Munchkinland, and the witch’s castle, are combined effectively with projected backgrounds, both still and animated, to bring home the look and feel of the movie to the stage, without directly copying it.
But the heart of the story is, of course, the characters. Starring as Dorothy in the Ruby cast is Madison Sykes. (Emily Fritz plays the role in the Emerald cast.) Sykes has a lovely voice that can handle, not only the iconic opening song Over the Rainbow, but is equally adept at joining in the comical and upbeat songs with the others. She also has a strong stage presence, bringing confidence whether sharing the scene with the other lead actors, or with a stage full of the younger dancers. She brings to life the emotional core of Dorothy, who is alternately frightened and overwhelmed by the experience, delighted in her magical surroundings, and brave in the face of adversity.
Dorothy’s co-stars are just as important, and from the moment he is unhitched from his pole, you can tell Dalton Johnson has what it takes to be a great Scarecrow. His strong voice and lanky frame allow him to handle the great song and dance number that sets up the trip down the yellow brick road, If I Only Had a Brain. Luke Villanueva handles the more tender role of the Tinman, and the mechanical style of his dance that contrasts with the floppy Scarecrow. The biggest laughs came with the appearance of the Cowardly Lion, handled with great gusto by Justin Harvey. He puts everything he has into If I Only Had the Nerve, and the later If I Were King of the Forest.
And then of course there are the witches. Starring as the beautiful Witch of the East, Glinda, is Jordan Soto, who floats in on her circular throne to lead the Munchkins in Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, and later in Poppies. While she gets to show off her lovely soprano, which fits perfectly with the character, her counterpoint the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Lindsey Hunter, has to settle for delightfully evil shrieks and threats as she conspires to get those ruby slippers from Dorothy. Like Sykes, Hunter takes control of the stage whenever she is there, making sure everyone knows she is in charge, (at least until her untimely melting at the end.)
One of the most memorable effects of the original movie was its abrupt change from black & white to full color when Dorothy lands in Oz. That effect is carried out beautifully in the Munchkinland scene when the stage explodes with color, as the youngest cast members appear in their amazing Munchkin costumes, created by costume manager Christine Martorana, designer Karen McConnell, and a team of volunteers. Overall, 80 percent of the show’s costumes had to be made from scratch, all the way up to the amazing hats. Even Dorothy’s dress goes from a dull brown to a bright blue gingham once she is in Oz. The cuteness factor reaches its peak in Munchkinland, as the Munchkins, led by 9-year-old Drew Longaker as the Mayor, belt out their songs to the delight of Dorothy, Glinda, and the audience.
Director Debbie Wilson has once again put together a wonderful show, handling two casts of 62 performers each. For this production, she handed the choreographer role to her daughter Anjie Rose Wilson, a 15 year veteran performer with EDMT, and known for her skills as a dancer. In addition to studying dance herself, Anjie has been a dance teacher and assistant choreographer for years. She had to come up with 25 pages of formations and charts to handle the many large dance scenes, such as Munchkinland, the Emerald City, the apple trees, and the marching Winkies at the Witch’s castle, along with the Yellow Brick Road scenes. One of the more complicated dance numbers was the Jitterbug, a song left out of the movie, where Dorothy and the others are attacked with a dancing spell before being captured by the flying monkeys. The choreography makes the scene work, and is one of the most memorable.
The title character—the Wizard of Oz/Professor Marvel—is handled well by Russell Anderson. Though he has no songs, he brings the humor and command needed for the role. Another performer that must be noted is Buster Pawsey, the adorable dog playing Toto. It must be very nerve wracking to rely on an animal to perform well on stage, but Buster always ran right where he should have, and stayed put in his basket when he needed to. The dog had to be trained to interact only with the characters he would in the show, which were the two Dorothys, the two Lions, and the two Professor Marvels.
The Wizard of Oz opened November 4 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until November 20. It’s the perfect show for young and old alike, whether it’s all new, or the familiar classic you know by heart. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net.
Ken Kiunke 11/6/2016 Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
The wonderful world of Oz is brought to life by EDMT
It’s the tale of Juliet and Romeo at an American high school, with the “Brianiacs” taking the part of the Capulets and the “Jocks” serving as the Montegues, as two young people meet and fall in love. The show began as a Disney Channel TV movie, which became hugely successful and spawned two sequels, and was quickly adapted for the stage. The El Dorado Musical Theater is presenting the show as one of this season’s Main Stage productions, featuring performers from ages 10 to 19 (with two exceptions…) There are two casts performing alternating shows—the Juliet and Romeo casts—though the male performers are the same in each. I saw the Juliet cast on opening night, Friday, May 1.
The “High School Musical” in the title is the school’s production of a new musical play written by a student, an adaptation of Shakespere’s Romeo and Juliet, which she calls “Juliet and Romeo”. Three groups of kids at the school—the jocks, the brainiacs, and the show people—all get involved in the auditions for this new high school musical.
Though the play is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, the show has more echoes with the television show Glee, and the musical and movie Grease—especially in the opening number Start of Something New, which is similar in theme to Summer Nights, as basketball star Troy Bolton (Andrew Wilson) and new girl Gabriella Montez (Lauren Metzinger or Madison Sykes) each describe to their friends how they met someone special over break—and Surprise!—now they’re classmates.
Troy is pulled toward leading the school’s basketball team to winning the championship, while Gabriella is recruited to lead the school’s scholastic decathlon team to victory when it’s revealed that she is something of a math genius. But when the two met at a winter break ski resort, they discovered through the magic of Karaoke that they both love singing, especially together. When they are drawn in to auditions for the high school musical, they come in conflict with school diva Sharpay Evans (Claire Soulier or Anjie Rose Wilson), and her twin brother and constant companion Ryan (Zach Wilson).
Unique to this production for EDMT is that most of the actors are playing their own age, or close to it (though many of them are actually middle school age rather than high school), and the presence of two “senior” members of the cast. Director Debbie Wilson is playing the part of drama teacher Ms. Darbus, and Dan Weaver is playing the part of Jack Bolton, basketball coach and Troy’s dad. As the only adult characters in the story, it is natural that the roles are handled by “age appropriate” actors. And it was great fun seeing Debbie Wilson acting on stage after seeing so many of the shows she’s directed. She and Weaver did a terrific job keeping up with the younger stars, and only fumbling a few lines…
Andrew Wilson as Troy not only sings and acts the part well, but you can tell he is truly a leader of the group, and all the other actors look up to him. He is a generous performer on stage, interacting with both his co-stars and the ensemble players equally. He and the other guys also had to learn a lot of basketball moves for the show, which Andrew said was new to him. But they showed off their skills in both ball handling and dance moves in the rousing number Get’cha Head In The Game.
Andrew also shared some very nice moments with Lauren Metzinger in the songs I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You and When There Was Me And You. She has a lovely voice, especially shown in the song Start Of Something New and its reprise.
Claire Soulier and Zach Wilson had great fun with their roles as Sharpay and Ryan, hamming it up in Bop To The Top and in the Audition scene, which also featured Drew Matthews, Kyra Schneider, Riley Price, Justin Harvey, and Lindsey Hunter each showing of their rather humorous singing skills. And Zach got to show off some of his smooth dance moves and comic timing with Soulier, as Sharpay tried to push Ryan out of the spotlight and serve only her.
The other supporting performers, especially Isabella Fay as Taylor, the leader of the Brainiacs, Connor Rickets as Chad, Troy’s best friend, and Brooke Bollinger as Kelsi Nelson, the composer trying to lead the school in her musical, did a great job in their roles both as individual singers and actors, and as part of the company. Stephen Noble as Zeke and Allie Frew as Martha also stood out in their parts when they had the chance to take the spotlight. The songs Cellular Fusion and Stick To The Status Quo, which ended act one, gave all of them a chance to take center stage. The biggest laughs, however came for Asten Fallavillita in his portrayal of an earthworm, which you’ll just have to see for yourself.
And holding the whole show together was the stage full of dancing cheerleaders, and Quintin Casl as Jack Scott, the school’s announcer, who appeared between just about every scene to let everyone know what was going on. His smooth, fast talking character drew cheers from the crowd, and laughs for his humorous delivery. Casl also hosted a series of promotional videos posted on the EDMT Facebook page, and has a natural delivery. He was part of the ensemble as well.
Also unique to this show was the number titled Megamix, which followed the concluding numbers Breaking Free and We’re All In This Together (Reprise). After the story ended, the Megamix was combination of several of the earlier songs, and had the whole company performing for a big finish, which then concluded with the final bows, and standing ovation from the enthusiastic opening night crowd.
Disney’s High School Musical opened May 1 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until May 17. For tickets and more info, visit www.edmt.info or www.harriscenter.net. And unlike shows like Grease, Glee, and even Romeo and Juliet, this show is appropriate for all ages, and kids of all ages will likely get a big kick out of it. And their parents will think back to their own high school days.
Ken Kiunke 5/3/2015 Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
Lauren Metzinger and Andrew Wilson