By Michael Tessler
Putting on “Shrek The Musical” is no easy feat. There are countless characters, huge set requirements, fantastical costumes and puppets both small and … dragon-sized. Theatre Three’s bold production of “Shrek” takes these challenges in stride, resulting in a masterful production befitting the scope and size of its Broadway counterpart.
Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, is deserving of great praise as he takes on the task with his usual grace and theatrical virtuosity. His versatility as a director is to be commended, such range and vision is an unusually rare thing. As a frequent spectator of his work, I’m beyond grateful that he makes every show a thrilling new experience, and his interpretation of “Shrek” is certainly no exception to that rule.
The production is filled with show-stopping numbers (21 of them!) and every song outdoes the previous. From the leads to the ensemble, each cast member delivers a spectacular performance worthy of the show’s Tony-nominated score.
One of my directors growing up would often remind me that a successful show lets people “leave their brains at the door” — it’s an escape from reality, and even the slightest mistake can upend that magical facade. This is why this production of “Shrek” was so uniquely satisfying. There was not a moment when I wasn’t fully swept up by the show’s phenomenal cast and harmonies.
Our title character Shrek, played by Theatre Three newcomer Danny Stalter, was an absolute treat. Stalter plays upon the Mike Myers’ legacy but forges his own unique style that is both endearing and hugely rewarding. This dynamic character undergoes development in nearly every scene. This progression is captured beautifully by Stalter whose well-conceived performance only enhances the emotional moments. Shrek, while grotesque and green on the outside, has a beautiful voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.
His partner-in-crime is a jackass, and by that I mean Donkey. Played with sass and master comedic timing by Bobby Montaniz, this hard not to love character steals the show and often! Admittedly his performance of “Make a Move” has been stuck in my head for hours, and I’m not complaining because it’s still making me laugh.
In theater they say “there are no small roles, just small people,” which bring us to Lord Farquaad, the Lord of Duloc, played to perfection by Matt Senese. This miniature-sized dictator had me laughing so hard, I’m surprised they didn’t kick me out of the theater. Senese makes perfect use of his tiny costume legs, dancing, jumping and kick-lining fearlessly. As if being funny weren’t enough, he also has a voice that is sure to wow!
Jenna Kavaler, a Theatre Three veteran, plays Princess Fiona flawlessly. Having just watched her performance in “Beau Jest,” I was amazed at her range as an actress. She is funny and wildly entertaining, especially during one particularly gassy sequence with Shrek. Her voice is beautiful but shines best during her three-part harmony with her younger Fiona counterparts played by Leah Bloom and Ella Watts. Their performance of “I Know It’s Today” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in local theater.
Steve McCoy choreographs the show to perfection, while Jeffrey Hoffman masterfully manages musical direction. Robert W. Henderson Jr. lights up the show with expert design and Patrick Grossman brings to life some fantastic fairy tale costumes. All in all, this family-friendly production is the perfect way to spend a weekend! If you don’t believe me, see below for a few notes from my little cousins who joined me for this special review!
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Shrek the Musical” through June 25. Evening shows begin at a family-friendly time of 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30.
All are invited to a Director’s Dinner on the Second Stage on June 5 at 5:45 p.m. with Jeffrey Sanzel for a fascinating behind the scenes look of the making of “Shrek” following the 3 p.m. show. Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $53 adults, $48 seniors and students, $45 children ages 6 to 12.
For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
Aida (age 7½): I loved when Donkey shaked his booty at Shrek! I liked the dragon because she had a nice voice!
Liam (age 5½): My favorite part is seeing Donkey! He’s really funny! Especially when he fell from the tree and made a little wall!
Maddox (age 5½): Loved the tap dancing and when Shrek kicks! And when Shrek found out Fiona’s secret!