I’m not a theater guy. I’ve tried my whole life to integrate theater into my cultural palette, but have never been able to embrace it completely. I’m just too fidgety. This is not to say I don’t admire the theater. On the contrary – I happen to think that actors are the most talented people within the creative class. But still, I’d rather watch a movie.
We saw Shrek the Musical this week at the Belk Theater in Charlotte. We have two daughters (10, 7) who grew up on the Shrek movies, so I’ve seen them many times. And while I agree the films are cute, I was never a huge fan. So when my wife sprung the theater tickets on us, I was less than excited. Oh, and not only was it Shrek – it was Shrek singing. Despite my enthusiasm, we got dressed up, went out for a pizza downtown and headed over to the theater.
Our seats were three rows from the stage, in the center. If you’ve never been to The Belk, it’s fancy. We were mostly surrounded by people with white hair and big jewelry. People with kids don’t usually get seats like the ones we had (the tickets were given to us.) A few songs into the play, I was impressed with the set and costumes. But I wasn’t laughing at the jokes, like everyone else was, because, well, I’d heard them all before. However, by intermission, I was captivated. Everyone was. The acting, the set, the costumes, even the music was brilliant. And the last half of the play was better than the first. No, I wasn’t so much into the story, as the storytelling. It’s not a new concept, Shrek. Sure there were fart jokes, but when you’re sitting in a massive theater and the whole place is laughing at jokes everyone’s heard before – the players are doing something right.
My favorite part of the night came when Shrek was practicing approaching Fiona to tell her about his true feelings for her (just like in the movie.) The hulking actor with the green face stood at the edge of the stage a few feet in front of us, and said in a Scottish accent, “How’ya doing?” To which my 7-year-old daughter, Cozette, responded, loud enough for everyone around us to hear, “Great!” At that point, I knew that this was a special play.
But it wasn’t until the end of the show, after the players rocked out to I’m a Believer, and after the shiny confetti had dropped from the ceiling of the fancy theater, did I understand the true benefit of the three hours spent in front of a story I’d seen dozens of times. That’s when the woman sitting next to our youngest daughter leaned over to my wife and said, “I want you to know how much I truly enjoyed sitting next to your daughter tonight.” The smile on the woman’s face was priceless. Cozette was too busy salvaging the shiny confetti from the floor to hear her, but hearing the woman say that wasn’t important. What was important was that this woman, who probably sees most productions that come through Charlotte, was transformed for just a little while through the eyes of a child. A giggly little girl who didn’t mind laughing hard at the fart jokes and was so wrapped up in the story that she thought Shrek was talking to her.
As mentioned earlier, I’m not a theater guy. I like the movies. And one of my all-time favorite movies is Finding Neverland. At the end of that film, J.M Barrie invites dozens of orphan children to attend opening night of Peter Pan. He then intersperses them arbitrarily to sit amongst the regular (hoity-toity) theater goers – who all looked insulted that these little brats would take up such valuable space sitting in the theater. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how it ends. Exactly like how Shrek ended for us the other night.
Sometimes, the theater is magical.