The newly christened Weston Theater Company opened its 86th season with a charming outdoor production of “Shrek: The Musical,” the fractured fairy tale of a rude, crude ogre, a faithful donkey, a sassy princess and the promise of true love’s kiss. It was funny. It was lively. It was lovely.
Unless you have been living under a rock and have never viewed the enormously popular Disney animated feature, the specifics of the story should be familiar. When the self-important Lord Farquaad of Dulac banishes several fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters to the swamp and home of Shrek, the ogre strikes a bargain to regain his peaceful abode: Shrek will embark on a quest with a talking donkey to free the Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a dragon and bring her to Dulac to be Farquaad’s bride. Along the way, Shrek becomes smitten with Fiona, but views himself as unworthy of her love. And, well ... there is a happy ending, it being a fairy tale after all.
Tall, burly Eli Hamilton easily slid into the part of Shrek. Possessed of a rich baritone, Hamilton ably conveyed that under that huge green mass lay the heart of a mushy romantic. As Donkey, Tomias Robinson exuded the boundless energy that made the character in the Disney movie so memorable without resorting to mimicry. A noble steed, indeed.
There were a few versions of Princess Fiona. As the adult Fiona, Emma Diner was nonplussed when she first appreciated that her rescuer was a big green ogre, and touched when her character recognized that appearances don’t matter, not really.
As the pompous (and diminutive) Lord Farquaad, Tommy Bergeron so huffed and puffed his way about that one was prompted to cheer when his character was consumed by the Dragon, played by Nadia Wilemski.
The balance of the cast, Ana Laura Santana (Peter Pan), Bryanna Cuthill (the Gingerbread Man), Anthony Bologna (Pinocchio), Nile Andah (Big Bad Wolf) and Dominic Dorset (Ugly Duckling/Bishop/music director), were uniformly wonderful. Many of the smaller members of the audience oohed and aahed when Pinocchio’s nose grew.
Performing outside in the open air presents its own set of challenges. This season, the set designed by Michael Ruiz-Del-Rizo consisted primarily of a castle wall, but that wall helped audience members hear and understand not just the brassy singing voice of Emma Diner as Fiona, but also those with voices in the lower registers such as Nadia Wilemski as the Dragon. The decidedly low-tech rope bridge over the river of lava was ingenious.
Choreographer Felicity Stiverson contributed synchronized marches that complemented the action. Simple costumes by Lily Prentice suggested characters without getting in the way and frightening any small fry. Kudos to director Piper Goodeve for allowing the underlying sweetness of this very irreverent show to shine through.
The moral of “Shrek: The Musical,” such as it is, can be found in the show’s final anthem: “Keep Your Freak Flag Flying.” Translated: be yourself — that’s hard enough — and accept others as themselves, too.
Outdoor performances of “Shrek: The Musical,” which run just over 80 minutes and are free to members of the public, continue in Weston at the lawn at Walker Farm at 1 p.m. from July 5 to 10, as well as at other area locations, including South Pomfret on June 30, North Bennington on July 1, Brownsville on July 2, and Rupert on July 3. Bring your own seating. For additional information about showtimes and venues, and to make reservations, call the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company box office at 802-824-5288 or visit the website at westonplayhouse.org.