Bringing Yawns Back

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    Shrek—as inoffensive and serviceable as it is—has pushed me over the edge. No longer will I settle for good enough. I let Billy Elliot’s weak second act and completely unmemorable songs slide because the choreography was stupendous. Equus has two marvelous performances at its center, so why carp too much over the bizarre, gay dance club staging? But poor Shrek must pay for the sins of those that came before it.

    Why, in a show that’s surely for children, are there so many dead patches? Entire scenes and songs—mostly in an interminable second act, which made me wish for an emery board—are mere filler in this tale of ogre Shrek (Brian D’Arcy James), his donkey sidekick (Daniel Breaker as the gayest donkey in the history of jackasses), and the princess they rescue (Sutton Foster, working as heroically as usual in an attempt to manufacture genuine charisma). Librettist and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire has a Pulitzer, but fills his book with fart jokes and doesn’t know how (or when) to end a scene or how to write one memorable song.

    Even worse than a book that panders to the lowest common denominator—with just enough wink-wink nudge-nudge references to appease adults into smirking with recognition—is what director Jason Moore has done to his talented cast. John Tartaglia, who worked with Moore to better effect on Avenue Q, gives such a terrible performance as Pinocchio under Moore’s direction that his fans may turn their backs on him in the future. And Breaker’s Donkey is just an endless parade of prancing and eye-popping that stops amusing after his first song. Only Christopher Seiber escapes relatively unscathed. Given most of the production’s best sight gags as the tiny Lord Farquaad, he makes the most of the character and steals what there is of the show. He even manages to sell a stale Wicked joke in the second act by fully committing.

    But looking at the song list only a few hours after having seen the show, not a single of Jeanine Tesori’s tunes springs to mind, leaving me wondering if I’m humming the impressive scenery instead. The sets are awe-inspiring (though one questions the use of confetti during the curtain call), as are an eye-batting dragon and a delicious-looking, talking gingerbread man. But if the physical production is impressive, Josh Prince’s lackluster choreography is on a par with Moore’s direction. Only the second act opener “Morning Person” features dancing with personality, giving Foster a chance to bust out some steamy, fun moves. But one dance number in a two-and-a-half hour musical is not good enough. Nor is a Broadway musical that doesn’t leave me singing one of its songs—even flop High Fidelity left one of its numbers in my head for days. If mediocre was enough, Shrek would be fabulous. As it is, just read the book aloud to your children. But please don’t use the voice John Tartaglia has appropriated. That one should be retired forever.

    Open run. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway (betw’n 52nd & 53rd Streets), 212-239-6200, $41.50–$121.50.