Summer’s over. School is back in session. If you’re among the dozens of kids at NCT’s Youth Theater, then “Shrek, the Musical” is on your lesson plan. This musical comedy demonstrates the power of friendship, self-sacrifice and especially self-respect. Oh, there’s plenty of singing, dancing and clever dialogue to make the point.
At Friday’s performance, we visited Shrek’s make-believe kingdom. There, the fairy tale characters and nursery rhyme people compete for attention. Shrek himself is an ogre who is green and grumpy. His friends and foes include a dragon, a donkey, an evil lord and a beautiful princess. The Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater provides the venue.
While enjoying the irreverent and often poignant story, you can’t miss the colorful costumes (Marla Gotay, Rita Donahue), lively music (Paolo C. Perez) and clever choreography (Lane Halperin). Director Jason Gotay, a Broadway veteran and Brooklyn native, has truly harnessed the energy and exuberance of nearly 70 performers ranging in age from elementary school to college level. Along with stage manager Kristen Calabrese and the group’s president Margaret McMahon, countless community-minded adults provide behind-the-scenes support for this enormous undertaking.
The title role is played by Antonio Oliveri. His musical instructions? Just stay out of his swamp! As he swaggers across the stage with his huge, albeit green physique, Oliveri conveys the character’s combination of strength and vulnerability. By story’s end he will not accept his fate as an outcast.
The three beautiful Fionas– Jessica Sparacio as the quirky grown-up princess, Kiera Doherty as teen Fiona and Abigail Summa as young Fiona, musically confess their hopes and fears from their revolving tower. They are all awaiting true love’s kiss.
The Donkey (Jose Mendez) stubbornly holds onto Shrek’s friendship despite many misunderstandings. Evil Lord Farquaad (Alexander Deverson) is just as determined to undo the bonds between Shrek and his allies. The golden Dragon (Courtney McEvoy Lee) is mesmerizing as a very good friend but sometimes fiery foe.
The large cast spotlights enthusiastic and talented young people. Scene stealers include Amanda Summa as “Gingy” the gingerbread person and many performers too numerous to acknowledge by name.