Give "Shrek The Musical" an A for being adorable.
There's something for everyone in this stage version of DreamWorks' hit animated ogre-themed movie based on the children's book by William Steig.
The touring production onstage at the Orpheum in The City, which features a good number of artists from the original Broadway show, is the perfect holiday entertainment. It serves up consistent laughs, eye-popping sparkle, jolly tunes and even some heartwarming emotion.
Writer David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) nicely sticks to the film's story and playfully sarcastic tone, beginning with "Big Bright Beautiful World" when 7-year-old Shrek's parents tell him nobody will like him because he's ugly.
So the unloved, abandoned ogre (Eric Petersen), accompanied by saucy Donkey (Alan Mingo Jr.), goes on a mission to free imprisoned Princess Fiona (Haven Burton) so she can marry her true love, Lord Farquaad (David F.M. Vaughn), whom she doesn't know is a nasty man who ousted a gaggle of sassy storybook characters from of their home.
Running at nearly three hours, there's no fat in the show. The delightful gags — yes, the pop culture and potty references abound — and meaty songs forward the tale to its expected happy ending.
Jeanine Tesori's ear-pleasing score ranges from show tunes to R&B and rock, and each production number seems more fresh and surprising than the one before, even though audiences have seen the devices — puppets, for example — many times.
The huge, soul-singing puppet dragon in "Forever," reminiscent of the flesh-eating plant in "Little Shop of Horrors,” is thrilling.
The troupe of fairy tale characters, from the Sugar Plum Fairy to the Three Bears to Peter Pan, is a treat to behold. Scenery and costume designer Tim Hatley captures terrific details, down to the Three Little Pigs carrying suitcases made of straw, sticks and bricks, and Pinocchio's wooden limbs and growing nose.
Vaughn, as the vain short Farquaad, walks on his knees in a hilarious costume with fake little bouncing legs out front.
Even the power ballads aren't bad, happily surpassing the sappy ones in similarly-inspired big Disney musicals.
Still, the best big numbers in Act 2, even after the thoroughly satisfying first act, feature Burton as Fiona.
In the show-stopping "Morning Person," she dances with the Pied Piper's rats, who do marvelous Bob Fosse moves, and in the cheeky "I Think I Got You Beat" (not unlike "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from "Annie Get Your Gun") she and Shrek compete over whose life is worse and whose bodily functions are more loud and grotesque. They also fall in love.
Audiences will fall in love with the entire cast of "Shrek," who, as in the movie, close out the show with the infectious Neil Diamond tune "I'm A Believer."
With its universal themes of wanting to fit in but still be your own person; its fun-loving pop culture characters, and its nonstop wit and sass, "Shrek The Musical" is as good as its source material. You'd have to be big grump not to have a smile on your face the whole way through.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; plus 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 26; 2 p.m. Dec. 23 and 30; 2 p.m. Dec. 24; closes Jan. 2
Tickets: $30 to $99
Contact: (888) 746-1799 or www.shnsf.com