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Queens Chronicle

Shrek stars in a setting as magical as his story

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2019 10:30 am

Big, bright and beautiful ... those are the words used to describe the world in the opening number of “Shrek the Musical,” being performed through Aug. 18 by St. Gregory’s Theatre Group in Bellerose.

Those same adjectives may be applied to the production itself, which is a feast for the eyes, thanks largely to the creative minds of two of its designers, Todd Wilkerson and Marjorie Wilkerson, a husband and wife team responsible for the eye-popping set and costume designs, respectively.

But there is much more here to captivate the senses, including a terrific lighting scheme devised by Glen Davis, gorgeous artwork and an impressive dragon-come-to-life, both devised by Tony Chiarella, and, not to be overlooked, a large intergenerational cast that features several powerful singers.

For those still unfamiliar with this fairy tale adventure, it focuses on the title character, an ogre who was raised to believe he was “fated to be lonely” and “destined to be hated” because of his unconventional looks. He encounters a wisecracking and unusually talkative donkey, and, together, they set off to free a beautiful princess who has spent most of her life trapped in a high tower, dreaming of her prince charming. Throw into the mix the evil Lord Farquaad, a vertically challenged tyrant with a surprising back story that is revealed late in the proceedings, and the scene is set.

The complex book is the work of David Lindsay-Abaire, who also provided the often humorous lyrics, set to the toe-tapping music of Jeanine Tesori.

SGTG is celebrating its 40th season with this production. Kathy Rollo Ferrara, a founding member of the group, is once again at the helm, leading a team that includes no fewer than three assistant directors and two additional choreographers. The collaboration comes off seamlessly. They are joined by musical director Jon Riss, who leads a band of three.

Making an auspicious SGTG debut is Jay Braiman, who reprises the role of Shrek, imbuing him with an endearing humanity. He also does justice to his musical numbers, most especially in the touching “When Words Fail” and the dramatic “Build a Wall.”

As Fiona, the princess who longs to live happily ever after, Hannah Pipa is a strong belter and proves she can do a mean tap dance in the second act opener, “Morning Person.”

In a performance that calls to mind comedienne Jackee, Shala Hunter as Donkey tries too hard to elicit laughs, rather than letting Donkey’s many funny lines speak for themselves. Paul Thomas is an over-the-top Lord Farquaad, nearly stopping the show when he joins a first act kick line, and offering a heartfelt musical diatribe aimed at his father in the second half. Zach Russo is an animated Pinocchio.

The most memorable vocal rendition comes courtesy of Hailey Tappan, who personifies the Dragon.

Many in the company play multiple roles, including Lori Santopetro (as an ogre and a witch), Kelly Connors (helping bring to life an adorable Gingerbread Man) and Chiarella (most memorable as a famous dwarf).

While aspects of the story could prove scary to the very young, everyone should be able to enjoy the spectacle that unfolds on a makeshift stage in the basement of the church. In addition to those artists already mentioned, kudos are due Alex Santullo for his spot-on sound design, and the outstanding hair and makeup design team.

Be sure to watch for Pinocchio’s ever-lengthening nose and a singing bluebird who puts in a brief but adorable appearance.

When: Thu.-Sat., Aug. 15-17, 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., Aug. 17-18, 2 p.m.
Where: St. Gregory the Great Church, 242-20 88 Ave., Bellerose
Tickets: $18; $15 seniors, students; $9 kids under 12.
(718) 989-2451, sgtg.org

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