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Review: 'Shrek' makes colorful, not tuneful, transition to the stage

What "Shrek lacks in subtlety, nuance and subtext, it makes up for in scenery and visual effects.

The national touring production that's at the Benedum Center through Sunday is a high-quality version of the Broadway musical with a cast of 26 and an orchestra of 16 musicians and a conductor, five of whom travel with the show plus a dozen more from the Pittsburgh area.

It's a somewhat simplified version of the original DreamWorks animated feature film that follows the adventures of an independent green ogre and his motor-mouth donkey pal as they find love and friendship while rescuing a princess from a tower.

Those who know and love the movie should enjoy the stage version.

Their one big disappointment might be that the fairy-tale characters who were cleverly tucked into corners of the movie appear as an ensemble to move the story forward and supply one teachable moment in the show's most high-spirited number -- "Freak Flag."

Dedicated theater fans who know the movie will best appreciate the creative team's ability to translate cartoon characters to the stage, such as the dwarfish Lord Farquaad and to turn a very human Eric Petersen into the oversized and loveable ogre Shrek.

The 10-year-old boy who lives on in some of us will appreciate the numerous fart jokes.

But few will leave the theater whistling the tunes from David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori's serviceable but forgettable score.

They're more likely to be talking about scenic designer Peter Hylenski's elaborate succession of plant-filled swamps, towering forests and forced-perspective architecture that honors the worlds of animation and live stage. Hylenski also designed Crayola-bright costumes that are pretty yet honor their animated origins.

Puppet designer Tim Hatley, illusions consultant Marshall Magoon and lighting designer Hugh Vanstone turn fantasy into vivid, beautiful reality as Shrek and Donkey travel across a flaming lake of lava, challenge a mammoth, mobile dragon and experience glorious sunsets.

Audience affections warmed to Alan Mingo Jr.'s Donkey. Haven Burton provided a slightly off-beat Princess Fiona and Petersen was a properly assertive yet vulnerable Shrek.

On opening night, the show ran overlong because of a 10-minute delay before curtain followed by a technical snag with scenery

that brought the show to a 20-minute halt during the show's first scene. After that problem was resolved, the show continued almost flawlessly.

Expect a glitch-free performance to run about two hours and 30 minutes, and definitely stay for the post-curtain call ensemble number.

Additional Information:

'Shrek'

Presented by: PNC Broadway Across America • Pittsburgh

When: Through March 20

Admission: $22-$73

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

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