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A Green Hero’s Journey

Actors Cabaret delights with Shrek! The Musical
Alex Holmes and Mark VanBeever
Alex Holmes and Mark VanBeever.

If you’d been living in a swamp since you were seven, you might not be too concerned with personal hygiene either. Still, while he’s not the handsomest of guys, with his green skin, bulbous nose and trumpeting ears, Shrek has plenty of odoriferous humor and heart, and he’ll need both to save Duloc’s fairy tale creatures, rescue the princess and cope with his new sentimental feelings of … love? 

Bubbling over with laughs for all ages, Shrek! The Musical is based on Dreamworks’ Shrek film franchise, the popular movies and spin-offs built from the 1990 picture book by masterful children’s writer William Steig. This musical by David Lindsay-Abaire, expertly envisioned and directed by Actors Cabaret of Eugene’s Joe Zingo, relates more closely to Steig’s original story and illustrations than the movies ever realized. Here Steig’s artistic style is evoked throughout: From the inventively whimsical and exquisitely detailed costumes to the charming set with its wobbly trees and dripping leaves, this show makes Steig’s world three dimensional while bringing the iconic movie roles down to an accessibly human scale. 

Anchoring the cast as Shrek, Mark VanBeever’s nuanced voice and booming physicality shine, deftly capturing Shrek’s glee at his own repulsiveness, and at times, a surprising vulnerability. Along for the mission is Shrek’s sassy new friend Donkey, ably played by Alex Holmes. And when the unusual duo meet up with Princess Fiona, portrayed by the gamine Melissa Miller, things really take off, as Miller and VanBeever exchange the gassy duet “I got you beat.” Rounding out the leads, Cameron Walker as Lord Farquaad infuses an oily petulance into every princely tantrum. 

The winning cast features several teens, whose presence adds an approachable charm and youthful energy to the production. Kyra Siegel is especially strong as the astute teenage Fiona. 

With lyrics that are entertaining to adults and kids alike, the show’s music invites the audience into a world where wolves wear dresses, cookies talk and dragons sing the blues. The strong ensemble performs with great enthusiasm, selling the lively choreography by VanBeever, which features clever references to A Chorus Line and Motown within its broad musical theater style. Epitomizing the silly fun is the fairy tale character anthem “Let Your Freak Flag Fly,” a glorious confection that could warm the heart of even the greenest ogre. — Rachael Carnes

See Shrek! The Musical at Actors Cabaret of Eugene through Dec 21.