There's nothing inherently wrong with Broadway adapting films. After all, films adapt Broadway. Source material can come from anywhere, as long as the final product satisfies. Still, there's something distressing about the proliferation of movie adaptations and jukebox musicals, as they promote a kind of cultural cannibalism and a dilution of fresh creative work and opportunities. So it's hard not to enter into something like 2008's Shrek the Musical with something of a bias. But the good-natured show, adapted primarily from the fine 2001 film Shrek (and partly from that film's source, William Steig's 1990 novel Shrek!), has a winningly inclusive spirit, a fantastical appeal, and a Vaudevillian comic showmanship that evoke The Wizard of Oz (surely a conscious inspiration). Yes, as the cliché goes, it's fun for the whole family...
At last, Shrek the Musical has become available on Blu-ray and DVD and digital viewing. Recorded, in October 2009, for eventual home-video release, this hi-def rendering features the original cast, including three performers who earned Tony nominations for their work: Brian d'Arcy James (Shrek), Sutton Foster (Fiona), and Christopher Sieber (Lord Farquaad). Along with Daniel Breaker (Donkey) and John Tartaglia (Pinocchio), the actors effectively push past elaborate costumes and makeup to put across reasonably endearing characters. The plot hews pretty closely to the film: in order to reclaim his privacy, Shrek must leave his home—overrun by exiled fairy-tale characters—and seek out Lord Farquaad in Duloc to get him to restore the status quo. In the process, Shrek learns that the status quo wasn't so hot after all: life is better with a friend, Donkey, and a love of his life, Fiona.
As with the film, there's an unfortunate irony in telling a story about not judging ogres for being "ugly" while those selfsame ogres (and everyone else) take repeated shots at Lord Farquaad for being short. Aside from that blithe mixed message, Shrek the Musical is safe viewing even for young'uns, with a David Lindsay-Abaire book that's not too clever by half and a Jeanine Tesori score that's pleasant if unmemorable. Not all of the songs advance the plot—some just take up space—but highlights include the impressively staged numbers "Big Bright Beautiful World" and "I Know It's Today" (the latter performed by Young Fiona, Teen Fiona, and Adult Fiona), Farquaad's showstopper "What's Up, Duloc?", the love duet "I Think I Got You Beat" and Shrek ballad "When Words Fail," which d'Arcy knocks out of the park.
Shrek the Musical cost about $25 million to mount, and it looks it, with lavish costumes, and a constantly changing set that incorporates a turntable. Puppeteering helps to bring to life both the Gingerbread Man and a dragon, and Farquaad's stunted growth spawns fun trickery involving Sieber performing mostly on his knees in a specialized costume. Sieber and Breaker hit the right pitch with performances that could be unbearable if any more over-the-top, and Foster proves her comic genius while subverting the princess myth with consistent star-wattage and charm. If you're looking for a "starter musical" for your kids, you can do worse than Shrek the Musical (though taking them to see an actual live performance first would be better).
DreamWorks shuffle-ball-changes Shrek the Musical into hi-def video in a Blu-ray + DVD + DigitalHD edition. Special challenges attend the recording of a live stage piece, particularly the difference between theatrical lighting and film lighting, which requires striking a balance of adherence to the source material's look and wha's necessary to get a good video image. Shrek the Musical navigates this process quite deftly, resulting in a colorful image that's never washed out and blown out in either hues or contrast. Detail and texture are substantial, if a bit softer in long shots than in close-ups. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a fine job of capturing live audio and presenting it with clarity and rich fidelity. Though there are exceptions where the audience reactions are a bit intrusive in the mix, it's a valid choice that helps to recreate the live experience.
No substantial new bonus features are included here. Shrek the Musical Songbook with Sing-Along constitutes menu access to the musical numbers (27:46 in total, HD), plus a subtitle option (25:07 in total, HD). It's really no more than that, though it's a nice feature to have on a musical.
"From Swamp to Stage: The Making of Shrek the Musical" (8:06, HD) was a promo featurette made available on home-video editions of Shrek Forever After. It's wise to include it here, but nothing new for Shrek fans. Cameron Diaz hosts as show creators and cast members offer interview clips.
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