The impact live theater has on children never ceases to amaze. There are arguably many other experiences that bring joy and awe to the children of Fort Wayne — we have an excellent zoo, the botanical gardens, Science Central, and numerous parks, playgrounds and splash pads. But as far as experiences go, I rarely see one that has an impact on my children as great as taking them to a live performance. 

When familiar characters are brought to life in front of their eyes, it is a real opportunity to experience magic, both as parents and as children. 

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre delivers this magic with their production of Shrek the Musical, now playing at Arts United Center through Nov. 19.

Shrek the Musical

Fort Wayne Civic Theatre
7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 10-11
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12
7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 17-18
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19
Arts United Center
303 E. Main St., Fort Wayne
$22-$39 · (260) 422-4226

Hands-on approach

It is something special when a theater company makes the effort to embrace their target audience and welcome them to a space that for many is unfamiliar. 

Kids really appreciate being able to explore their environment, and the production team at Fort Wayne Civic found an excellent path for that by providing a “touch and feel” table with a selection of props used in the show. Samples of scenery were made available for the young patrons to interact with, along with the ever-popular themed coloring pages. 

There was even a vendor selling ogre ears, which were fully embraced by young and old alike. Also, a “calm corner” could be found secreted away under a stairwell should someone become overwhelmed by the crowd. 

Setting the scene

Shrek the Musical is based on the Oscar-winning 2001 Dreamworks film and also on Shrek, the 1990 children’s book written and illustrated by William Steig. 

The musical begins with a bit of the backstory of the title ogre and Princess Fiona, whom he later rescues, showing them both as children and teens, then diving into the film’s familiar storyline. 

The megalomaniacal Lord Farquaad (Caleb Curtis) has banished all of the fairy-tale characters from Duloc in order to build his idea of a perfect kingdom. He sends them to the swamp where Shrek (Eddie Foggs) has made his home. On his way to speak to Farquaad, Shrek meets a talking Donkey (Timya Townsend) who quickly declares himself Shrek’s best friend. 

In order to get his swamp back, Shrek is tasked with rescuing Princess Fiona (Emersen Conner), who would marry Farquaad and finally make him a king. But happily ever after has some other plans that must be seen to be believed.

Superb performances

The performances were phenomenal, and much credit should be given to not only the principal players, but also the ensemble. 

The ensemble, which included many teens and children, not only had many costume changes and multiple roles, but also handled difficult choreography very well. 

Foggs was the perfect combination of imposing and cuddly. He made some excellent emotional transitions, demonstrating his range as a performer and showing off the onion-like layers of the character he portrays. His renditions of “When Words Fail” and “Big Bright Beautiful World” are tender and vulnerable, while his duets with Donkey and Fiona are silly and irreverent but performed with just as much mastery.

Conner is a truly a bright spot in the cast. Her Fiona is as fiery as her character’s hair, delivering sass and spunk matching blow for flatulent blow with Foggs in “I Think I Got You Beat.” While her sass brings the laughs, she also has some very poignant moments of introversion that make her character relatable. Conner’s delivery truly sings.

On some less serious notes are Townsend as Donkey and Curtis as Lord Farquaad. 

Townsend, a very talented woman playing a male role, is excellent. Her timing is great, and she uses her physicality to her advantage with comical physical gags. Her face is incredibly expressive and her voice is rich in her hilarious numbers “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Make a Move.” Townsend brings the laughs and sets up everyone else for fantastic punchlines. 

Then there’s Curtis. It is difficult to adequately describe the hilarity that this actor brings to the role of Lord Farquaad. Physically, the role is demanding, relying heavily on sight gags for laughs, but Curtis doesn’t let the sight gags do all of the work. He is quirky, he is goofy, he really hams it up for the audience and brings it to its knees (pun intended) with laughter at every turn. It’s not unfair to say that Curtis’ Lord Farquaad steals the show.

Appealing to young and old

My 6-year-old daughter, like the many other children in the audience, enjoyed the show. 

It was wonderful to hear the giggles from the children as they viewed their favorite fairy-tale characters, as well as the recognition of the moments from the big screen coming to life before their eyes. 

I imagine that it brings as much joy to the performers to hear that laughter as it does to those of us in the audience lucky enough to be sitting near a child who is enjoying this wonderful live experience. 

It’s a great family time out, and a performance that both the young and young at heart will enjoy.