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Review: 'Shrek' may baffle youngsters

Donna Freedman
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers take the stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins communicates by radio headset with colleagues during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production stage manager Caroline Walker oversees technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins confers from the stage with Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers perform during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) works from his knees while playing the short villain as actors proceed without costumes during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Work stations are set up around the Atwood Concert Hall to evaluate lighting, sound, props and other aspects of the production during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Actors practice a number during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sound technicians work at the back of the Atwood Concert Hall during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona) fixes her hair during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) practices steps during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Perry Sook (Shrek) performs in padding but not full costume during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical continue Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns, right, works with fellow performer and Dance Captain Susan Leilani Gearou in the hallway outside the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) strikes a pose during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns (Peter Pan), left, and Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) visit while seated at costume cubicles at the back of the stage during a break from technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Props fill the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
The Gingerbread Man waits offstage as a prop during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker directs technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical from her work station in the Atwood Concert Hall Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers take the stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins communicates by radio headset with colleagues during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production stage manager Caroline Walker oversees technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins confers from the stage with Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers perform during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) works from his knees while playing the short villain as actors proceed without costumes during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Work stations are set up around the Atwood Concert Hall to evaluate lighting, sound, props and other aspects of the production during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Actors practice a number during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sound technicians work at the back of the Atwood Concert Hall during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona) fixes her hair during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) practices steps during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Perry Sook (Shrek) performs in padding but not full costume during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical continue Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns, right, works with fellow performer and Dance Captain Susan Leilani Gearou in the hallway outside the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) strikes a pose during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns (Peter Pan), left, and Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) visit while seated at costume cubicles at the back of the stage during a break from technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Props fill the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
The Gingerbread Man waits offstage as a prop during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker directs technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical from her work station in the Atwood Concert Hall Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers take the stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins communicates by radio headset with colleagues during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production stage manager Caroline Walker oversees technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Stage Manager Kelsey Tippins confers from the stage with Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Dragon puppeteers perform during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) works from his knees while playing the short villain as actors proceed without costumes during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Work stations are set up around the Atwood Concert Hall to evaluate lighting, sound, props and other aspects of the production during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Princess Fiona (Whitney Winfield), right, gets to know Shrek (Perry Sook) during a scene in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Actors practice a number during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sound technicians work at the back of the Atwood Concert Hall during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Tuesday evening October 2, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona) fixes her hair during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) practices steps during a pause in technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Perry Sook (Shrek) performs in padding but not full costume during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical continue Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns, right, works with fellow performer and Dance Captain Susan Leilani Gearou in the hallway outside the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jeremy Gaston (Donkey) strikes a pose during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Matty Burns (Peter Pan), left, and Christian Marriner (Lord Farquaad) visit while seated at costume cubicles at the back of the stage during a break from technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Props fill the Atwood Concert Hall stage during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
The Gingerbread Man waits offstage as a prop during technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Production Stage Manager Caroline Walker directs technical rehearsals for Shrek The Musical from her work station in the Atwood Concert Hall Wednesday afternoon October 3, 2012 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

"Shrek: The Musical" is a fairy tale for grown-ups and, to some extent, for children. But it's a mistake to bring preschoolers to this show -- a kiddie cartoon it isn't. During Sunday's matinee, small fry were squirming and sighing and asking audible questions.

Rapt adults kept shushing the kids because they didn't want to miss anything. Clever lyrics, some fairly risqué humor and homages to shows like "Les Miserables," "West Side Story" and "Rent" (with a touch of "Star Wars" thrown in for good measure) abounded in this antic and occasionally frantic production.

That's "frantic" in a good way. The humor was by turns sly and broad and always rapid-fire. That made the show consistently funny for tall people, but some little ones seemed left in the dust.

A major re-imagining of the William Steig fairy tale and the film franchise, "Shrek: The Musical" gives quite a bit of backstory, like how Fiona ended up in the tower, what made Shrek so grumpy, why Lord Farquaad hates fairy-tale characters so much. (Hint: His father was really Grumpy.)

The production, which opens its national tour in Anchorage this month, rises or falls on the strength of its two main characters. Both Shrek (Perry Sook) and Fiona (Whitney Winfield) were remarkable. Sook wore a matter-of-fact gruffness as naturally as his extra-large tartan trousers. Menace was just a means to an end, i.e., getting back his solitary swamp. The audience was on Sook's side from the beginning.

Winfield was both spirited and wistful in the role of a princess who didn't ask to be imprisoned and who chooses to believe that one day her real life will begin. After two decades of reading fairy tales, she's a little surprised that real life doesn't always happen by the book.

Christian Marriner is hilariously fatuous as Lord Farquaad, the small-statured man who longs for a kingdom and will do anything -- even marry a girl -- to get it. Marriner's role is very physically demanding since he plays it almost entirely on his knees. Ouch. The actor's squealing and face-making brought a lot of laughter, especially from children in the audience.

The children also roared at the burping and gas-passing contest, the wedgies suffered by the two main characters and the reference to a "flaming hiney" (an occupational hazard; ogres tend to get chased by torch-wielding villagers). But at two-plus hours, the show asks too much of the very young.

The fifth-grader in my party stuck it out through the end, but the first-grader was bored during the second act. That's when most of the backstory shows up and, face it, kids can't really grasp topics like daddy issues, pheromones, Scientology, unrequited love or letting one's "Freak Flag" fly.

That last is a number during which the fairy-tale characters decide to fight back against discrimination. "What makes us special makes us strong," they sing in a full-throated, "Rent"-esque roar that nearly stops the show.

The singers and dancers are to be admired for energy, talent and ability to change so many costumes so fast. Each person is responsible for multiple roles, all of them funny.

By all means go see "Shrek: The Musical." But if your kids are under the age of 10, either get a babysitter or prepare to spend a lot of time murmuring, "Shhh! I'll explain it later."

 

Donna Freedman writes a daily website for MSN Money and blogs at www.donnafreedman.com.

 


By DONNA FREEDMAN
Daily News correspondent