By PAM HARBAUGH
Fun, tenderness, courage and redemption are tickling the ribs of all ages in Cocoa Village Playhouse’s most excellent production of “Shrek: The Musical.”
And, yes, this is for everyone, not just the youngsters. If you miss this, you are cheating yourself out of a tasty holiday treat.
The name “Shrek” seems to come from the German word “Schreck,” which means fear, fright, shock, etc. Indeed, while he’s fearsome on the outside, this Shrek has a big, loving heart. Based on the 2001 animated movie voiced by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, this stage musical version has music by Jeanine Tesori (“Violet,” “Caroline, or Change”) and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (“Rabbit Hole”).
It tells the tale of Shrek, an ogre, and his unlikely buddy, Donkey. They go on a quest to save Princess Fiona from not only a lovelorn Dragon but also the miserable Lord Farquaad. Within this simple storyline are a chorus line of fairytale characters and enough gags to keep you laughing from curtain to curtain.
While Cocoa Village Playhouse is a community theater with a deserved reputation for top-notch production values, here, they reach beyond their gold standard with visuals that will leave you agape. Add to that a cast led by professionally trained talent, pristine voices and choreography that is smart and effective and what you have is…yes…I’m going to say it…as good as the Broadway tour.
With every role he takes, James Spiva keeps showing us the goods. Here, he embodies the ferocity and heart-breaking tenderness of Shrek, the green ogre who, at the age of seven, was sent to fend for himself. He finds the emotion in “Build a Wall” and then breaks your heart in “When Words Fail.”
As Princess Fiona, CVP newcomer Ashley Willsey is a stage delight through and through. This talented young woman who works as marketing manager for the Orlando Rep, finds appealing pizzazz and humor in Fiona. In “Morning Person,” she’s a tap dancing, singing dream as she suggests there is more to Fiona than meets the eye.
You have never seen Benjamin Cox perform with such sublime, uninhibited humor than he does here as the miniature Lord Farquaad. He wins throughout with every double take, raised eyebrow and exquisitely timed repartee (especially with a Ginger Bread Man).
You just can’t get any better Donkey than that delivered in a winning performance by Felander Stevenson. As it was with the movie, Donkey pretty much steals the show. The bulk of the humor is written into the role of Donkey, and this talented young man squeezes out every drop with amazing energy. He’s got the voice, the movement, the attitude all wrapped up in the type of theater heart that delivers 150 percent. You want more and more and he gives it to you.
Other standouts include John Dudley as high talking Pinocchio, Brittany McHellon as the sassy Dragon and Kari Snodgrass as comic Gingy and Sugar Plum Fairy.
But that’s just the people on stage. You also have a pit orchestra, led by conductor William H. Yoh, Jr., that’s as good as it gets. Add to that exquisite work by makeup artist Sharon Metz, wig artist Ray Asiala, choreographer Natalie McKnight, lighting and scenic projection by Ian Cook, sound designer Gavin Little and stage props by April Norton (how does she get Pinocchio’s nose to grow?).
Costume designer Dan Hill does his best work ever, and wisely rented Dulac/Farquaad costumes from DC Theatricks, which are correctly credited in the program. Mr. Hill also joined Brian Brown, Ian Cook, Jeremy Phelps, Joseph Lark-Riley and Jan Romanowski in creating the enormous Dragon puppet.
Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith has brought Cocoa Village Playhouse to another level, and so soon after the helicopter experience in “Miss Saigon.” You’ve really got to make a point to see this show. You get your money’s worth and more.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Shrek: The Musical” runs through Dec. 7 (it cannot be extended) at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Coc It performs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays Sundays. Tickets are $18 – $32. Call 321-636-5050 or visit www.CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com. “Shrek: The Musical” is sponsored by Victory Casino Cruises.