In recent years, Netflix has strived to populate its online streaming collection with an assortment of musical theater movies and shows. From classics like Grease, to new movie musicals such as Mary Poppins Returns, there’s a pretty sizable selection to choose from. During quarantine, this is a definite plus.
One such gem is the filmed production of Shrek: The Musical, coming straight at you from the end of its run in 2010 at the Broadway Theater in New York City. Interestingly enough, up until two months ago I had only seen the classic animated version of Shrek, with “All Star” by Smash Mouth as the main theme song. I was aware that there was also a musical theater version, but I didn’t really know anything about it. However, after watching the original Broadway cast on my computer late one night, I was hooked.
As far as comedic musicals go, I’d say Shrek is pretty dang near to the top! The opening number, “Big Bright Beautiful World,” starts the show off with young Shrek, an ogre, being kicked out from his house by his parents to find his own way in the world. From there, we follow the story of adult Shrek (Brian d’Arcy James), who has made his home in a swamp. Subsequently, his swamp is infiltrated by a band of misfit fairy tale creatures, evicted from Duloc, the kingdom of Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber), a roughly three foot tall man with a Napoleon complex. When Shrek, accompanied by his new friend the Donkey (Daniel Breaker), goes to Farquaad’s castle to demand the fairy tale creatures leave his swamp, he is promised his wish will be granted if he rescues the Princess Fiona from her tower and brings her to Lord Farquaad for marriage.
Naturally, Fiona (Sutton Foster) is surprised when instead of a handsome prince, Shrek shows up to set her free. However, as Shrek, Fiona, and the Donkey travel back to Duloc, we learn that Princess Fiona is a beautiful woman by day, but an ogre like Shrek at night. A large part of the story centers around her learning to accept this complication.
While the bells and whistles of amazing costumes, catchy songs, hysterical dialogue, and awesome sets may distract a viewer from the show’s deeper themes, the main message is actually a really important one. Coming to terms with a part of your identity, whatever it may be, can be difficult to navigate, and the desire for conformity can be quite alluring. For the viewer, seeing Fiona and the rest of the fairy tale creatures go through very relatable journeys is what helps make Shrek such a good musical. Even though the specifics of the characters’ situations may not be so realistic, (who sets off on a quest with a singing donkey nowadays anyway?) the feelings behind these pivotal points in the plot are. When you can relate to a protagonist and see yourself in them, that sense of connection transforms Shrek from a fantastical tale to a more authentic story.