Let your freak flag fly

The Walnut Street Theatre presents Shrek the Musical’

3 minute read
Celebrating love in all shapes and sizes: Nichalas L. Parker and Julia Udine as Shrek and Fiona at the Walnut. (Photo by Mark Garvin.)
Celebrating love in all shapes and sizes: Nichalas L. Parker and Julia Udine as Shrek and Fiona at the Walnut. (Photo by Mark Garvin.)

I decided to attend the Walnut’s Shrek The Musical because I have a faint memory of my 12-year-old self absolutely adoring the movie. Inspired by the Oscar-winning animated film Shrek, David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) adapted the award-winning Broadway musical in 2008. Now it lands at the Walnut, welcoming back director Glenn Casale, who stays true to the beloved story line while adding fresh and funny elements of modern culture.

The musical follows an ogre named Shrek (Nichalas L. Parker) after fairytale creatures exiled from their kingdom by the evil Lord Farquaad (Ben Dibble) invade Shrek’s private swamp. Shrek cuts a deal with Farquaad: in order to get his precious privacy back, he must rescue Princess Fiona (Julia Udine), Farquaad’s desired bride-to-be, from a fire-breathing dragon. Shrek sets off on his quest with a wisecracking Donkey (Dana Orange) on a journey filled with chaos, secrets, and romance.

Through a child’s eyes

While watching the musical with children of all ages in the audience, I couldn’t help but think about how valuable it is for kids to experience live theater when they’re young. Theater makes you feel alive in a way that no other entertainment form can. I never saw any live theater until my 20s, so it took me until then to realize that I wanted to be a performer. Shrek The Musical, for one night, made me feel like a kid again—with the added perk of understanding all of the more mature jokes. Throughout the night, you could hear gleeful kids giggling when nobody else was. I can imagine that the show is wonderfully enchanting through a child’s perspective.

Transported to Far Far Away

Acting at the top of their game, Parker is a pure delight as Shrek, and Udine adds some real spunk to feisty Princess Fiona. The actors infuse the script with their chemistry and charisma, creating a playful and dynamic pair. As Donkey, Orange plays a hilarious third wheel, cleverly channeling Eddie Murphy (the Donkey of the film) and bringing humor to every line. Last but not least, Ben Dibble’s portrayal of short-tempered Lord Farquaad is a crowd favorite, consistently greeted with hoots and howls in each of his scenes.

An audience favorite: Ben Dibble as Lord Farquaad. (Photo by Mark Garvin.)
An audience favorite: Ben Dibble as Lord Farquaad. (Photo by Mark Garvin.)

Robert Kovach’s set and Mary Folino’s intricate costumes transport the audience to the land of Far Far Away, filled with a kingdom of outcasts from classic fairytales. Every lead and supporting character shines through solo pieces, beautifully harmonized ensemble songs, and choreographer Robbie Roby’s excellent dance numbers. While there are a couple of songs that feel like filler, Shrek on stage lives up to its acclaim in this performance, which received uproarious laughter and applause throughout the two-hour run-time.

Love in all shapes and sizes

Shrek is a champion for outsiders, comparing himself to an onion (with many layers) and saying people “judge me before they know me.” Delivering a heartfelt message to let your freak flag fly, Shrek embraces the parts of you that make you different and advocates for love in all shapes and sizes.

Whether it's Pinocchio dancing the floss or an electric tap-dancing number, Shrek turns the age-old prince-and-princess trope on its head to create a funky-fresh and current play for all ages to enjoy. I don’t know if it was the cold weather or my warm heart, but watching this musical got me into the holiday spirit. Shrek believes that “fairytales should really be updated,” and the standing ovation at the Walnut on opening night agreed.

What, When, Where

Shrek The Musical. By David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by Glenn Casale. Through January 5, 2020, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. (215) 574-3550 or

Walnut Street Theatre is an ADA-compliant venue. Patrons wishing to purchase wheelchair seating should call (215) 574-3550, ext. 6, rather than ordering online. There will be an open-captioned performance of Shrek on December 1, 2019 and an ASL-interpreted and audio-described performance on December 11, 2019.

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