SHREK AND HIS FAMILY CELEBRATE WOODMINSTER’S 50TH SEASON WITH A BRIGHT HIT IN THE OAKLAND HILLS
The Green Ogre has taken over the Oakland hills and is the best Dreamworks vs Disney character to bring in Woodminster’s Summer Musical 50th season. SHREK THE MUSICAL is currently enjoying a bright, colorful, highly entertaining production at the outdoor venue. Harriet Schlader, Managing Director, says "When my late husband Jim and I started producing musicals at Woodminster, we never thought about it continuing for 50 years. We just wanted to provide affordable live summer family entertainment in the East Bay, and to foster a love of live theatre.- our loyal audiences -- some of whom have been sitting in the same seats for 3 generations, have kept us healthy for so long. We're so proud to be a summertime tradition beloved by so many, and we're looking forward to the next 50 years!"
SHREK based on William Steig’s illustrated children’s book and the 2001 DreamWorks Animation, comes to Oakland with the impressive Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote the book and lyrics to Broadway’s “Shrek,” won the his Pulitzer for “Rabbit Hole.” Jeanine Tesori, who composed “Shrek’s” music, won the 2015 Tony for best original score with “Fun Home.” Using a good deal of the sparkle and showmanship of the original national tour production, this musical includes with a superb cast and production team who bring the characters to expressive life.
Directed by Schlader’s son, Joel, he has brought back some of the Woodminster regulars and new faces to create the sizzling cast that bring the giggles to their season opener. Joel said “This is a great show for kids and families - it also has a good message — that it’s okay to be different, that we should all embrace our own uniqueness and be tolerant of others — even if they’re green and really, really big!” A cast of 28 - is a tall order but Schlader uses the large Woodminster’s stage effectively including the full size dragon designed by the clever creative Lisa Danz and played by the powerhouse vocalist Beach Blanket Babylon cast member, Misa Malone.
Shrek opens the show with “Big Bright Beautiful World” and new to the WSM stage is local favorite Daniel Rubio as the huge, smelly, green Ogre. Perfect casting, the dynamic Rubio brings a shinning, entertaining, lovable, green, stinky monster (with gas) to fullsize life. Even under all that green makeup and the outsized costume, his preserving green Scottish accent is smooth as he manages to endear himself to the audience. He is energized singing "Who I'd Be", "When Words Fail" and "Beautiful Ain't Always Pretty" featuring his impertinent charm. His comic timing with the cast is all heart. Rubio makes the perfect Giant Green Hero, and the best Shrek I have seen on our local stages.
Set "once upon a time" in a fairy-tale land, SHREK tells the story of a scary green ogre who lives in quiet isolation in a swamp until a group of now homeless fairy-tale creatures invade his land, telling him they were forced out of their homes by Lord Farquaad. In order to get the creatures off his land and back into their homes, Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to go on a quest with his new friend Donkey, to save the feisty Princess Fiona whom Farquaad wants for his bride;she is imprisoned in a dragon-guarded tower. If Shrek can bring Fiona back to Farquaad, the fairy-tale creatures will get back their homes and Shrek can have some peace and quiet. However, things don't go exactly as planned.
Long time WSM vet, Rod Voltaire Edora, is Donkey; he is a real scene-stealer, mining all the sly humor out of his role, and he looks great in his grey Donkey costume. He brings the house down in “Don’t Let Me Go”. Shrek meets a slew of Fairy tale friends in “Story of My Life” and writer Abair has fun with the Disney characters as in the animated story. Besides the three pigs, Bears, and a talking cookie, Burton Thomas reprises his role as the wooden boy Pinocchio and takes charge in “Freak Flag“ with some amazing passion. The young Madison Jane Schlader as Gingy brings a nice amount of zing to her role, and adds to the Schlader generations at the Oakland Park.
The skillful Claire Buchignani is Princess Fiona, and she is all you could ask for in terms of beauty, charm, and a lovely voice, and she manages to rival memories of Sutton Foster, who created this role in the original Broadway production. Her charm and comic timing with Rubio is a hoot in the fart/burp infested “I Think I Got You Beat”. It is the moment in the story were the love between the too leads blossoms.
There are many marvelous supporting roles, the superb Edward Hightower is a riot as shorty Lord Farquaad, especially in his two big numbers, “What’s up Duloc” and “Ballad of Farquaad”. Hightower adds his own lines and is keen at improv when at times his costume by Alison Morris slips a bit. We're supposed to hate him, but in Hightowers hands, we like having him around. The political heat of the 2016 election is clearly on stage when Hightower makes some perfect alliances with Trump and the audience loved it.
Rubio sings “Build a Wall” as his commanding voice soars to the top of the open amphitheatre and another Trump reference brings giggles to the opening night crowd. Abair also adds some clever tuneful fairytale atmosphere, and manages to include canny references to other musicals. Lord Farquaad's first song ends with an amusing reference to the power anthems of Wicked and there are cute sight gags that spotlight such shows as The Lion King. My favorite references is the Dragon's summoning up of a moment from Dreamgirls, and Malone’s sweet voice behind the huge dragon is perfect.
Shrek's supporting cast actually gets most of the best jokes in the show, other performances to note include the foolproof Caitlin O’Leary as the witch, Clair Lentz and Katie Elman as the younger Fiona both shine as they sing “I Know It's Today”. Edora shows his professional comic timing the entire two and half hour romp especially as Donkey sings “Make a Move” when he dances with the Three Blind Mice.
Buchignani opens the second act with “Morning Person” and the talented dancer and WSM veteran, Oscar Tsukayama, plays the Pied Piper and leads a tap line of Mice with Fiona; well choreographed by Jody Jaron. The talented Tsukayama and most of the featured players in the cast are double cast in many roles, since this Dreamworks classic story has so many layers of fun. Burton Thomas’ voice can be heard throughout the performance as some of the animated puppet characters. As the wooden boy becomes the hero of the second act Thomas leads his cast of misfit fairy tale Disney has beens, holding signs that ring out current times “Fairy Folk Lives Matter”. Director Schlader keeps his 28 member cast on the move letting characters out into the audience to the young kids’ in the crowd delight.
This production looks and sounds pretty remarkable throughout, especially in the recreation of the original costumes under the direction of costume coordinator, Alison Morris, and the capable set design by Maggie Lamb which truly transforms the stage into the fairytale world with the many levels the WST offers a nonstop parade of color and fantasy. Danz deserves a lot of credit for the many props, spears and smaller puppet animals designed cuddly correct and there are the varied sound effects that transcend farts, burps and birds tweeting designed by Carole Davis. Musical director, Daniel Thomas, does fine work leading the stunning 15 member full orchestra. Jon Gourdine’s light design always has the challenge of dealing with summer sky that hides his creative lighting until after the sun sets. But once the park darkens and the fog rolls in, his lighting is spot on. The mix of the Oakland fog and the ogres lagoon makes this the best spot to see this story on a chilly night.
SHREK THE MUSICAL teaches us that ogres can find true love even if they smell, that donkeys can find true friendship even if they're ingratiating, and that a jerk is still a jerk even if he's a prince and nearly a king. I want to shout out to this talented ensemble who play various roles including: Eric Carlson, Rachael Chin, Ron Chism, Tatianna Cordoba, Kenji Costantini, Katie Elman, Cai Freeman, Jeffrie Givens, Gavin Kaneshiro, Claire Lentz, Maya Martinez-Krams, Kelty Morash, Madison Schlader, Todd Schlader, Irene Semenova, Sonya Shaposhnikova, Stanisav Shaposhnikova, Katie Elman, Sarah Stahl, Katherine Stein, and Lorenzo Wood.
Woodminster Summer Musical production of SHREK THE MUSICAL offers a great deal of smiles, and director Schlader has maintained the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor throughout, as well as providing moments that can truly pull an audience's heartstrings. This is a perfect musical for families and, and with as much flair as this production provides, it is simply a delight and highly recommended for your family summer adventure to discover Woodminster in the Oakland Hills. Kids need to see this and Woodminster continues its popular Kids Come Free program, where kids and teens 16 or younger who attend with paying adults can get free tickets on performance nights. In its 25-year history, the "Kids Come Free program" has provided over 43,000 free tickets to young theater-goers. What a happy ending as the cast rocks to Neil Diamond/Monkees “I’m a Believer”, it is hard not to stand and dance with the company. I hope they continue to get the rousing crowds I saw on opening night. The enthusiasm was well deserved and the spirited Daniel Rubio has brought the Green back to Oakland.
WOODMINSTER SUMMER MUSICALS CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
Shrek The Musical
Based on the
DreamWorks Animation Motion Picture
and the book by William Steig
Musical Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
"I'm A Believer" by Neil Diamond
Directed by Joel Schlader, Musical Direction by Daniel Thomas,
Choreographer Jody Jaron
Only through July 17th
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, Oakland
Tickets: $26 to $59 with each child free with a paying adult
Information: www.woodminster.com or 510-531-9597
Video and photo’s by Stephen Woo and Jon Kawamoto
Edward Hightower as The Prince:
Daniel Rubio as SHREK sings "Who'd I Be"
Claire Buchignani, Claire Lentz and Katie Elman are Princess Fiona
MORNING PERSON - with Claire Buchignani, Tap dancing mice and Oscar Tsukayama
The Story of my Life - with the FAIRY TALE CAST
More Photo's by S Woo