Chicago Shakespeare Theater never disappoints for the production values and star talent of the Navy Pier space's annual summer theater offering for young audiences.
I've seen and enjoyed their previous productions from the past decade, ranging from "The Wizard of Oz" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to "Pinocchio" and last year's "Beauty and the Beast," among others.
With music direction by Michael Mahler, Rachel Rockwell, who also headed last year's summer stage run, pulls out all the stops with her direction and choreography of the 2013 production "Shrek The Musical," now playing until Sept. 1 in the Courtyard Theater.
It's based on the 2001 Academy Award-winning DreamWorks film and the book by William Steig, the basis for the Broadway musical adaptation that played Chicago in July 2010.
For Rockwell's re-imagining, what's served up to the audience is a boiled-down 80-minute, no intermission incarnation of the Broadway story, with all of the most popular musical numbers included.
Actor Michael Aaron Lindner is in fine form as the ogre title character and Summer Naomi Smart shine's in her CST debut as his love interest Princess Fiona in this story of fairytale creatures banished to a swamp, with an ogre as their unlikely hero. A funny, talking donkey, played by the talented James Earl Jones II, joins the journey, as the duo attempts a princess rescue plan while facing both a fire-breathing dragon and the tricky Lord Farquaad, played nicely here by Travis Taylor.
While the set by Scott Davis, lighting design by Jesse Klug and costume design by Theresa Ham, are fun and fanciful, it's the cast that get short-changed with how the show has been edited and condensed. Donkey deserves more stage time and the parade of storybook characters featured never get the chance to hit their mark for audiences to savor.
Actors making their Chicago Shakespeare debut, and remarkably slipping seamlessly in and out of multiple casting roles, include: Cameron Conforti as Young Shrek/Baby Bear, Adam Fane as Pinocchio/Ensemble, Caroline Heffernan as Young Fiona/Ugly Duckling, Emily Leahy as Young Fiona/Ugly Duckling, Sarah Page as Witch/Ensemble, Alexis J. Rogers as Mama Bear/Dragon, Joey Stone as Papa Bear/Papa Ogre and Matthew Uzarraga as Young Shrek/Baby Bear. Actors returning to Chicago Shakespeare include: Norm Boucher as Wolf/Thelonius/Dwarf, Tommy Lucas as Pig/Knight/Ensemble, Rebecca Pink as Gingy/Teen Fiona, Liam Quealy as Pig/Knight/Ensemble and Will Skrip as Pig/Knight/Ensemble.
I'm still not sold on the idea that "Shrek the Musical" is the best fare for young audience theater, since in this case, the producers promote it as "recommended for ages 5 and up." Song lyrics and dialogue include expressions like "sucks" and "blows," and there's also a long sequence of burping and flatulence that fails to impress, along with references to crossing-dressing and being a Scientologist, among other mentions that the world of a 5-year-old need not face just yet.
Tickets are $18–$25 with a 40 percent parking discount at Navy Pier garages. FYI: (312) 595-5600 or visit chicagoshakes.com.