We attended opening night of Secaucus High School’s presentation of Shrek, The Musical on Thursday evening, April 6, totally ignorant of what the musical was about. After the fine performance, we found ourselves wondering just what the play, written by David Lindsay-Abaire with music by Jeanine Tesori was really about. What was the plot, the theme, the message? What was the purpose of the numerous fairy tale characters? One of the 18 songs in the musical was called “Freak Flag.” That got us thinking about the David Crosby song “Almost Cut My Hair” on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Déjà vu album from 1970. In it, Crosby relates that he considered cutting his long-flowing mane of hair, but reconsidered, “I feel like letting my freak flag fly.” Later in this popular song, he writes, “I’m not giving in an inch to fear.” That’s it! Shrek is about being different, looking different, feeling different and, ultimately, it’s about inclusion and acceptance.
“Shrek,’’ the ogre, played by the incomparable Nicholas Halecki in his final high school performance, is tossed out on the world at age seven by his parents who tell him, it’s a “Big, Bright, Beautiful World” (one of the other 18 songs in the production), and that even though he is “ugly” (he is an ogre, after all, a green one, at that), he will find his way to happiness and “true love.” Shrek’s journey through life, however, hardens him, until he encounters “Donkey,” acted with great flair by Joseph Lacap who possesses good comic timing and a soulful singing voice. Donkey latches on to an uncooperative Shrek, singing plaintively “Don’t Let Me Go.” Shrek relents, and the two journey onward, encountering fairy tale characters such as Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Three Blind Mice, Big Bad Wolf, Three Little Pigs, etc., all who suffer low self-esteem because of their “otherness.” Donkey’s joie de vivre and optimistic outlook begin to have a positive affect on Shrek.
When the pair meets up with “Lord Farquaad” and his army of guards, Shrek promises to deliver “Princess Fiona” to Farquaad so they can be married. Chase Melendez, in a bravura performance, portrays Lord Farquaad. Chase delivers just the right mixture of glee, terror, and likable ghoulishness to Farquaad. What makes his performance especially unique is that all his movement on stage is on his knees with fake “mini-legs” dangling from his torso, making for quite a strange, very short in stature, appearance. Chase pulls it off without a hitch (however, we wonder how his knees feel after all the practices and three performances!). The “campiness” of both his and Donkey’s personas brings good humor to the show. Princess Fiona, played with wonderful finesse by Alyssa Rivera (she also has a great singing voice), is upbeat and beautiful, Shrek’s total opposite. Fiona sings “Morning Person,” an ode to happiness and overcoming any obstacles in one’s path. She’s fun and she’s funny. Shrek and Fiona flirt with each other in the song “I Think I Got You Beat,” fall in love, and when he kisses the princess, she, too, turns into an ogre! Shrek finally finds true love with Princess Fiona, leaving Lord Farquaad short-changed (excuse the pun).
The fairy tale characters, led by Pinocchio (Nicholas Matos), stand up to Lord Farquaad and his guards. They sing “Freak Flag” and are fearful no more. Donkey and the Three Blind Mice (Coco Sekhu, Kayla Ducusin, Madeline Gasser) sing “Make a Move,” a plea for Shrek to pursue his romance with Princess Fiona. The “Rat Tap Dancers” and the “Duloc Dancers” (too numerous to mention all) light up the stage with their tap and other lively dancing. Choreographer Jody Jaron knows how to exact perfect performances from her young dancers. Director Maleesa Lamatina and assistant director Sarah Sciscilo had their hands full with this production that featured a multitude of characters and a multitude of costumes. They succeeded! Musical director was Ilias Siafakis, conductor, Ilene Greenbaum, and student stage manager was Catherine Diaz. Patrice Phemsint (Maleesa’s mother) was the producer. Numerous individuals served in various capacities behind the scenes. Of course, Dr. Bob (Berckes) and Rob Valente, principals, respectively, of Secaucus High and Middle Schools, lent their invaluable support throughout the long process of putting on another show!
We loved the finale song, “I’m A Believer,” a Monkees’ hit from 1967 sung by Mickey Dolenz, our favorite “Monkee!” The entire cast was on stage to sing the melodic song that brought a fun end to a very fun Shrek, The Musical.