The curtain rises on a young Shrek, bathed in the dazzling light of a crescent moon. According to the original song that his parents are singing, he is seven. And so are most of the people in the audience. Here, at the opening night of Shrek The Musical, I expected to see more jaded millennials—people like myself who also feel that "Shrek is love, Shrek is life" and who will jump at any chance to make an ogre pun in conversation.
Shrek and its sequels (including the delightful Christmas special Shrek the Halls) have become the nexus of a dedicated internet subculture. When a movie franchise about a Scottish (why?) onion-loving ogre earns $3 billion worldwide and then goes on to win an Oscar—AN OSCAR—you know those of us who actively scrutinize the mechanics of popular culture are going to get on board. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say: I went to see this musical for purely ironic reasons. But, something happened to me during the show's two-and-a-half hour run. I'm not joking. Call me the Grinch, but my cold, indifferent heart grew four sizes that day, and I genuinely enjoyed myself.
Yes, it was a spectacle, and I lost count of the number of wet fart sounds I heard. But the cast was really great (especially Jonathan Winsby as Lord Farquaad and Heather McGuigan playing Princess Fiona; they killed it). The sets were simple but dynamic, and there was an epic scene with a dragon puppet performed by a real-life diva whose voice gave me goosebumps. Most importantly, the underlying message of the piece was really modern and progressive.
The idea that "fairytales need to be updated"—that cultural narratives, which limit and essentialize identity, should be scrutinized and rewritten—situates Shrek The Musical directly within contemporary discussions about identity politics. For real: The musical culminates with a literal protest for inclusionary rights. In the world of Shrek, if you "let your freak flag fly" and reject the prescriptive rhetoric of mainstream culture, you too can find your "perfect happy ending." Of course, that happy ending is hetero-monogamy, but hey, it's friggin' Shrek.
Shrek The Musical
To May 29
Neptune Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street