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THEATER REVIEW: "Shrek: The Musical"

What could be better on a warm summer evening than watching a lovable ogre, a pushy donkey, a princess In need of rescue from a dank old tower and a runty, obnoxious little prince with delusions of grandeur vie for attention onstage?

How about a six-pack of tap-dancing rats that nearly steal the show?

The show is, of course, “Shrek: The Musical,” and a terrific production plays through Aug. 29 at Moonlight Amphitheatre.

Stealing the show is a neat trick, because this production (based on the 2001 DreamWorks animated hit), with its borrowed turntable set, huge fire-breathing dragon, forest and dungeon scenes and book that lampoons everything from Bette Davis’ famous “What a dump!” line to “Les Miz,” has a lot going for it.

You remember the plot. Green ogre Shrek (T.J. Dawson, with a Scottish brogue), pushed out into the world by his parents at the age of seven (it’s an ogre tradition), has found life on the outside pretty tough. But he’s set up his own swampy home (complete with “BEWARE OGRE” sign) and is, he tells himself, happy living alone there.

One day a band of fairytale characters come to ask Shrek’s help. They’ve been banished from Duloc by Prince Farquaad and want to be reinstated. As it happens, Shrek wants to talk to Farquaad too, about the property rights to his swamp. He agrees to talk to the prince, incidentally rescuing a garrulous Donkey (Cornelius Jones, Jr., channeling Eddie Murphy) from a roving band of Farquaad’s guards. In return, Donkey offers to show Shrek where Duloc is (“I’m like a GPS with fur,” he says.)

Meanwhile, shrimpy little Farquaad (Marc Ginsburg) has concocted a plan to become king. It involves marrying a princess and then getting rid of dear old Dad. He’s too chicken to do the job himself, so he offers to trade Shrek his property rights for the rescue of Princess Fiona (Michelle London) from the tower where she’s spent the last 8,423 days.

Shrek and Donkey embark on the rescue mission, save the princess, and deliver her to Farquaad, but love gets in the way and Fiona (who has a bit of a secret) realizes she’s really in love with Shrek.

Dawson’s Shrek is a grumpy charmer (a tricky combination to hit) with a big heart that he’s been trying to hide all these years, nicely exposed in the lovely ballad “When Words Fail.”

Jones’ Donkey provides continuous comic relief, especially in his, uh, romance with Janay Byrd’s spunky fire-breathing Dragon.

London is lovely as Princess Fiona, especially fun to watch when she flings off her long skirt and joins those terrific dancing rats.

But the undisputed star here is Ginsburg’s diminutive (you’d be short too, if you walked on your knees) Lord Farquaad, whose commanding voice belies his silly appearance and disgusting behavior.

One opening-night problem has probably been fixed by now: the sound levels were set too high, almost deafeningly so, making Fiona and other sopranos sound screechy.

Bravo to Musical Co-Directors Kenneth Gammie and JD Dumas and the 15-piece orchestra conducted by Gammie, who came through yet again with sterling accompaniment.

“Shrek,” the DreamWorks animated film, and Moonlight’s musical production (with music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire) should close Moonlight’s summer season with a bang.

The details

“Shrek” plays through August 29, at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Showtimes are: Aug. 12-23: Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm; Aug. 26-29: Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.