Shrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Theater review

Rachel Rockwell's family-aimed production greatly improves on the original musical by paring it down.

1/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

James Earl Jones II as Donkey, Michael Aaron Lindner as Shrek and the company ofShrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

2/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Caroline Heffernan as Young Fiona, Summer Naomi Smart as Princess Fiona and Rebecca Pink as Teen Fiona in Shrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

3/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

James Earl Jones II as Donkey and Michael Aaron Lindner as Shrek in Shrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

4/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Adam Fane as Pinocchio, Michael Aaron Lindner as Shrek and the company ofShrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

5/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Alexis J. Rogers as Dragon and James Earl Jones II as Donkey in Shrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

6/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Summer Naomi Smart as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

7/7
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Travis Taylor as Lord Farquaad and the company ofShrek the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Rachel Rockwell's polished, very funny production's main improvement on the 2008 Broadway musical—and an improvement it is—lies in cutting more than an hour out of the show. The Broadway version, as seen here on tour in 2010, clocked in at two-and-a-half hours, and frankly felt more than a bit padded out, as if to assure audience members they were getting their money's worth. (The 2001 DreamWorks film it's adapted from ran just 90 minutes, after all.)

Chicago Shakespeare Theater brings the action in at around 80 minutes, no intermission. The edit comes in the name of kid-friendliness; playing exclusively matinee performances with a top ticket price of $25, this is a summer show aimed squarely at the families with young kids strolling Navy Pier and looking for some entertainment with their air-conditioning break. But I'd argue the pared-down version, which cuts about five songs I frankly can't remember from the original score, makes for smoother storytelling for audience members of all ages.

And Rockwell's blessed with a terrific cast and crack design team. Michael Aaron Lindner's titular ogre hides his glumness behind a booming voice, and James Earl Jones II and Travis Taylor squeeze every drop of comic juice out of their roles as Donkey and Lord Farquaad, respectively. Theresa Ham's delightful costumes and Melissa Veal's clever wig and make-up design smartly reimagine the fairy-tale characters' looks, while Rockwell's inventive choreography is nicely executed by the entire cast (including some frighteningly talented kid actors). There's actually a good reason for even non-tourists to hit the pier on a summer's day.

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