South Pasadena High School Drama made a spectacular return to the stage last weekend after a three year absence due to the pandemic. The mood for all three performances at the newly named Anderson Auditorium on the SPHS campus was nothing short of electric. The practically sold out, enthusiastic audiences were treated to a triumphant celebration of the highest caliber – and the joyful noise and hilarity that ensued proved director Nick Hoffa’s choice was once again an inspired one. From the moment conductor Howard Crawford struck up the orchestra to the final bows and awards given on Saturday, it was a heartfelt, boisterous party for all.
Based on the Dreamworks animated feature, “Shrek The Musical”, with score by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, is a fairytale adventure about a solitary, grumpy, green ogre whose swamp is invaded by all manner of fairytale characters who have been banished from the kingdom of Dulac by little meanie, Lord Farquaad. Shrek is tasked with rescuing Princess Fiona, with the help of his newfound, irritating but loyal friend, Donkey, from her dragon guarded tower in order to be Farquaad’s bride. The musical gives more backstory than the film with songs about Fiona’s childhood locked in the tower, Farquaad’s daddy issues, and the sad story of Shrek’s childhood.
It’s a wacky, wonderful world where fairytales collide in hysterical fashion. But there’s real heart to it because we find that this ogre actually has a song in his heart and lots of love to give. Levi Srebalus is the big lug, Shrek, and even through thick, green prosthetics, skull cap and fat suit, his sweetness and charm come through. It’s amazing to see Srebalus’ evolution on South Pasadena stages, from youth theatre roles at YST, to every show at SPHS, to singing his heart out in this lead role. He breaks your heart when he sings the sweetly awkward “When Words Fail”. Transcending the typical princess role is the incandescent Quinn Manzo as a feisty, funny Fiona. It’s easy to be #TeamFiona from the get go with Manzo’s crystal clear vocals and off the charts charisma. She and Srebalus make for an enchanting pair to follow on this journey of love and self-discovery.
There’s a beautiful trio called “I Know It’s Today” that highlights the exquisite harmonies of Manzo along with Iris Berrera and Alyssandra Lachica as young and teen Fiona respectively. It’s a great number that sets up Fiona’s story and just how long she’s been waiting for her rescuer.
Bringing the knee-slapping laughs is Ava Page as Donkey, who has many of the best jokes. But in Page’s capable hands, the jokes never pander, coming off as incredibly endearing – we root for the friendship developing between Shrek and Donkey. Lulu Talesnick has the unique job of doing her entire role on her knees as the height challenged Farquaad. It’s an absurdly silly sight gag and one that Talesnick and the cast took full advantage of with innovative ways of carrying her, having her ride a horse and dance across her guards’ backs. She clearly has a blast singing Farquaad’s country ode “The Ballad of Farquaad”.
Among the standout performances is the always ebullient Franny Knight as everyone’s favorite fib telling wooden boy, Pinocchio. She leads the pack of misfit fairytale characters with the highest of high pitched voices and terrific comedy chops. Rena Pau charms as the Pied Piper and Wicked Witch while Remy Julian-Lorenz makes a dynamic Big, Bad Wolf. Literally everyone fully embodies their characters and gives their all from the Three Blind Mice (Julia Shadmon, Lauren DuBria, Alexa Morales), a wildly inventive gingerbread boy played by Taylor Calva, a perfectly mad Mad Hatter (Jenna Perry), the forever young Peter Pan (Romy Rodriguez), the three little pigs played with outrage and indignation by Abby Greene, Sebastian Liebe and Lauren DuBria, to the dynamic presence of Audrey Omidi as the amorous dragon. Everyone, save for the few leads, play multiple roles bringing to life more characters like Mama and Baby Bear (Lia Borja, Lu Deleon), a fall down funny Alison Wang as the presiding Bishop, with Phoebe Dickinson, Deana Lau, Sophie Yeung, Morgan Lee, Kate Canuteson, Mia Chamorro, Kyle Dominguez, Audrey Ley, Omar-Sol Teyolia, Maggie Vyas, Lisa Zhang, Avery Campbell, Colette Carbonara, Milla Regalado, and Mikala Toshima playing Dulocians, guards, townspeople, fairies, skeletons and dancing rats! There are even wee ones Indiana Diaz as child Fiona and Shantanu Mankad as child Shrek.
James Jontz and his production crew succeed beautifully in creating the fairytale land of Shrek’s swamp and shack along with a castle tower, bridge and the kingdom of Dulac. Hats off to the student producers Shelby Collins, Nathan Comenares, Isabella Cruz, Leyton Ramos-Platt, Maya Flores, Isabella Galan, Michael Olsen, and Zoe Williams, who took charge of costumes, props and makeup design – all of which were outstanding.
The entire cast along with the audience has a complete ball with such big splashy numbers like the infectious “Morning Person” led by Manzo, the anthem “Freak Flag” where all the misfits sing out and proud about how what makes them different makes them special. The Courtney Cheyne inventive and bouncy choreography hit the mark as something straddling the human and fairytale world and the vocals led by Wylder Reinman sounded bold and flawless. Everyone got a kick out of the burp and fart contest in the middle of “I Think I Got You Beat”, especially the children in attendance! And the whole thing wraps up with a rousing rendition of “I’m a Believer” with the audience dancing and clapping along. What a show! Congratulations to Mr. Hoffa and the entire faculty, cast, and intrepid crew who gave South Pasadena something to believe in. Welcome Back!
Shrek was stage managed by Violet Main, Parsa Moradi and Tyler Doig ran spotlights, Jeremy Bruce ran lights, Z Wechsler and Alice Bock on audio, Samantha Yang on sound, Stage Crew: Timothy Chang, Jenna Newkirk, Maddie Wernberg, Michelle Shadmon. Set Construction by Alice Bock, Jeremy Bruce, Andrew Buenrostro, Kevin Camarillo, Timothy Change, Giovanni Cruz, Tyler Doig, Aidan Howard-Rede, Evan Jones, Maggie Ma-Li, Violet Main, Roderick McDonald, Parsa Moradi, Jenna Newkirk, Nicholas Olsen, Leyton Ramos-Platt, Z Wechsler, Madeleine Wernberg, Jayson Williams, Samantha Yang.