unspecifiedBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Two years ago I saw a children’s theatre production of “Shrek”; I had never seen the show in any form, including the enormously successful 2001 animated film, which featured some famous voices like Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz. It won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

“Shrek” soon became a musical which opened on Broadway in 2008. It featured a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, with music by Jeanine Tesori. Atlanta Lyric Theatre is now offering a powerhouse version of the show with a distinguished cast directed and choreographed by Chase Todd; it runs through Sept. 4.

You may call it a children’s show if you wish, but its universal themes of self-acceptance and vanquishing the myth of “normality” transcend any age group. And lest we miss the forest for the trees—“Shrek the Musical” is very, very funny.

As many know, Shrek, splendidly played by Ryan Everett Wood, is a large, greenish ogre with self-image challenges, shall we say, who inhabits a swamp. He might scare you if he crossed your path; he does have a commanding air and a big voice, but his self-imposed solitude and vulnerability make him seem, well, human.

His solitude is interrupted by a band of fairy tale creatures who’ve been banished from the kingdom of Duloc by order of the evil Lord Farquaad (Vatican Lokey). That he has exiled them for being freaks is fraught with humorous irony, which you’ll discover. Mr. Lokey’s Farquaad is a hoot.

Among the “creatures,” especially winsome is the Donkey (Quentin Avery Brown), who wisely places a high value on friendship; and Pinocchio, played by the always dynamic (and here vocally and physically unrecognizable) Austin Tijerina. And then we have the Mama Bear and the Dragon, both played by the formidable Kayce Grogan-Wallace.

Meanwhile, back at the dragon-guarded, lava-surrounded tower, there is the soon-to-be Princess Fiona (Randi Garza); that is, if Lord Farquaad has his way. But Shrek and Fiona have a vital story of their own here, and I shall not reveal it. I can tell you that Ms. Garza, making her Lyric Theatre debut, is once again electrifying: singing, dancing, and acting. Her presence on any stage makes an evening much more interesting.

But then this is what the Lyric specializes in: They fill a stage with talented, magnetic people and suddenly a good show becomes a great show. The people in this colorful, witty “Shrek” include Marcie Millard, Jordan Balkwill, Kylie Blank, Amanda Bonilla, Jared Brodie, Chase Davidson, Brittany Ellis, Bonnie Harris, Joseph Harris, AJ Klopach (this young man has amassed some truly impressive credits in several important shows around town; I’m waiting for his breakout role, and I know it’s only a matter of time; the same is true for many in this cast), Nathan Lubeck, Hayley Platt, Tyler Sarkis, Jordan-William Snead, Mabel Tyler, and Kiersten Wallace.

The songs are funny, tuneful, and effortlessly advance the plot. The music director is Billy Payne. The orchestra is expertly prerecorded; the singing is live, and together they’re flawless. Thanks to scenic designer Tom Buderwitz and costume designer Kate Bergh.

You visit “Shrek” to have fun, advance your humanity, and let your “Freak Flag” fly. What better way to end the summer?

For tickets and information, visit atlantalyrictheatre.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.