"Shrek" is the first musical I've seen that makes the theater feel like a theme-park ride, and it all begins when Shrek's folks kick the little ogre out of the house and tell him he's going to have a rotten life.
The scene sets up the silliness in the musical, playing at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center through Sept. 28, that takes great pains to give every breath and movement a punch line. To say the play is irreverent would be like saying "The Producers" occasionally shows some bad taste.
And Diablo Theatre Company gives the play a thoroughly tuneful and clever ride from the start, as we are introduced to the fairy-tale characters as they are kicked out of town by tiny Lord Farquaad (Christopher Vettel, who plays the villain's role on his knees, with little plastic legs attached to his thighs).
The fairy-tale characters range from Pinocchio (Mary Kalita, equipped with a nose that grows) to the dwarf (a tiny Emily Joy Kessel, who sports a beard nearly as tall as she is and dances like a trouper). Keep an eye on this dwarf: She'll be back after the characters are in turn kicked out of the swamp by the grouchy Shrek (Jerry Lee), who wants the soggy jungle all to himself.
Of course, he doesn't get his wish for long. Donkey (Alex Alvarez) shows up, and insists that they not only have a good time, but seek to get the fairy-tale characters their homes back.
Instead, they wind up on the task of rescuing Princess Fiona (Brittany Danielle) and bringing her back to Lord Farquaad, so he can marry her and become king.
And they succeed, braving darkness and good-natured bad gags along the way. The trek demonstrates why "Shrek" is good for the whole family -- Shrek and the princess stage a burping and gas-passing contest. Or, if you and your kids' makeup is a tad more on the romantic side, they're going to a royal wedding, duh.
The plot gets nice and twisty from here, so I'll leave it at that. Music in the show is quite bouncy and tuneful. Jeanine Tesori has written some toe-tapping tunes and David Lindsay-Abaire hits full-tilt parody in some of his lyrics and much of his dialogue.
And it's all played with precision by the wonderful cast, with great timing and fine comic movement. Danielle, as the princess, proves to be an excellent comic as she wanders through the swamps with Shrek and Donkey.
Lee and Alvarez are quite wonderful in their own right, as is Vettel as Lord Farquaad. The show is tightly directed by Kikau Alvaro, who has paced the scenes well and given her actors plenty of work that pays off.
"Shrek" is also well choreographed by Alvaro, with an excellent orchestra conducted by Brandon Adams. In fact, the show is incredibly well built from the ground up, with a fanciful set designed by Kelly James Tighe, costumes effectively designed by Carol Edlinger (and there are LOTS of costumes), and makeup and mask design by Kendra Johnson.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, presented by Diablo Theatre Company
Through: Sept. 28
Where: Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Civic Drive at Locust, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours,
Tickets: $49-$53, 925-943-7469, www.lesherartscenter.org or www.diablotheatre.org