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Shrek the Musical: ‘Be a Believer’

  • Jeff Thomas Courtesy of SRJC theatre arts

By: Janet and Lanny Lowery
November 23, 2018

Innocent delight from beginning to end, Shrek the Musical, a story that most everyone knows, enchants the most cynical with songs, dances and fairy tale friends from Pinocchio to Alice-in-Wonderland to Peter Pan. The show lifts off with the warm but ironic song titled “Big Bright Beautiful World” and does not touch ground again until after the cast delivers the last line of “I’m a Believer.”

Opening night, Nov. 16, threatened by closure due to the smoke, produced a clearing in the atmosphere and brightness in the dark night. The Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Department, using the Maria Carrillo High School Theatre as its venue, offered its multi-talented show to a full capacity audience which gladly submerged itself into two and a half hours of fantasy and rapture. Michael Arbitter portrays a unique Pinocchio, a one-man chorus, who brings us into the story with a wry, almost cynical slant that belies the wooden boy and hints at the unhappy man who reminds us throughout the show that even fairy tales have their rough edges. Will he become a “believer” in the last number?

Shrek, played by Danny Banales, remains the beloved ogre first known to most of us in the original animated feature. Banales sings, dances and resists the “big bright beautiful world” with gruff ease and accomplished monster grace.

Samantha Bohike-Slater transforms Fiona from the helpless damsel-in-distress into a modern woman who knows exactly what she wants. Bohike-Slater delivers her lines with aplomb and her dance moves with skill. Like all of the cast, her strong singing helps make the show lively and exciting, especially in the songs, “This is How a Dream Comes True” and in her romantic musical duel with Shrek, “I Think I Got You Beat.” Vocal Director Jody Benecke brought similar fine sounds out of all the cast while Music Director Rudolf Budginas led the orchestra.

Who is the real star of this show? A question asked of any production. The character Donkey, portrayed nicely by Isiah Carter, had the potential to steal the show. But Carter, a strong cast member, resisted that temptation as he blended Donkey so smoothly with all of the other characters as this should be done.

One memorable scene, Donkey’s encounter with Dragon, played by Jackie Diaz, involved some sophisticated coordination of a ten or twelve-foot puppet dragon. Not a step missed, not an awkward moment, this dexterous intertwining moved smoothly throughout the number. This scene reflected the show’s brilliant choreography led by Alyce Finwall.

An incredible performance by Noah Sternhill almost makes Farquaad likeable in some respects. We spent the evening wondering just how Sternhill pulled it off, and then he surprised us in the finale; even villains can become believers.

One fun part of viewing this production, seeing the costumes, make-up and hairstyles of all of the well-known fairytale creatures. Maryanne Scozzari and her assistants, Caitlyn Clark and Zachary Miller, created and designed these readily recognizable characters. And Peter Crompton’s scenic designs, seamless from one part to the next, blended perfectly with costumes and performances.

Laura Downing-Lee, the director, pulled this huge cast, musicians and support team together to produce one of SRJC’s most memorable and most fun musical shows.

There is plenty of time to see “Shrek the Musical” as there will be ten more performances between now and the closing show Dec. 2. The show is recommended for ages six and up. Tickets for all the performances, held at Maria Carrillo High School Theatre, can be purchased from the SRJC Box Office, 1-707-527-4307 or online: theatrearts.santarosa.edu.