Summertime musical theater returned to Umpqua Community College this weekend in a big, big way.
When curtains closed on the popular Oregon Musical Theatre Festival two years ago, local theatergoers lost the pageantry of midsummer juggernauts like “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Oliver” and “Fiddler on the Roof.
Gone were the elaborate sets, intricately choreographed musical numbers, casts that ran into the dozens, and live orchestras — all performed on our grandest of local stages, the Jacoby Auditorium.
At last the void left by OMTF’s departure has been filled by the Umpqua Actors Community Theatre and its epic production of the Broadway hit “Shrek the Musical.”
Director Melody Schwegel and her crew tapped into a rich vein of local talent and thrust the resulting cast into the visually arresting set pieces, charming characters and story line, and beautiful music of this popular show.
The result is pure enchantment.
The storyline is familiar to fans of the first “Shrek” movie: A big, not-so-scary ogre (Hugh Heinrichsen) wants to reclaim his swamp but first must rescue a princess from a dragon so the ruler of Duloc — too cowardly to rescue the princess himself — may claim her royal title.
Hilarity — often in the form of swamp-fart jokes — ensues.
On this quest of Shrek’s we meet Donkey (Elliot Snyder), the noble steed. Snyder’s Donkey likes to talk and sing. He talks and sings of butter and grits and kibbles and bits, fat kids and cake and old-lady hips.
We also meet Princess Fiona (Aymee Pedder), whose years-long imprisonment in the dragon’s lair has left her in desperate need of companionship and perhaps some psychiatric intervention.
In fact, our distressed damsel is one of many Duloc citizens who might benefit from some time on the therapist’s couch, beginning with the odious Lord Farquaad (Matthew Campbell) himself, whose Daddy issues would fill entire chapters of the DSM-5.
Somehow this collective dysfunction only adds to the otherworldly charm of a place where songbirds spontaneously combust, rats dance in taps, the Three Blind Mice shimmy like Jazz Age flappers, and fairy-tale creatures everywhere let their freak flags fly.
What makes this show so appealing is the extent to which it serves as a showcase for our local talent. This is a huge cast, and this production offers many opportunities for individual cast members — leads and ensemble players alike — to shine.
The leads — Shrek, Fiona, Farquaad and Donkey — have lavished attention on these roles, resulting in performances that thrum with life and laughs.
However, as with any feast for the senses, the main course must be accompanied by appealing side dishes, which is precisely what the supporting cast members provide.
Cast your eye upon any corner of the stage during one of the bigger choral numbers and you will find a bit player doing something cute and quirky.
In one corner you may have Alyssa Longoria doing hilarious double duty as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the voice of Gingy the Gingerbread Man, in another you will see Cristina Bayardo’s Humpty Dumpty doing the Humpty Hump à la Shock G.
Meanwhile, Zack Reed, Gary Gohman and Jason Briggs are hamming it up in another corner as the Three Little Pigs while poor Pinocchio (Ian Hutchins) can’t seem to stop his nose from growing to alarming proportions.
And did I mention the dragon with eyes of green hellfire and the seductive voice (Audry Adams) of a Siren?
All of this onstage magic is accompanied by a live orchestra and set against some of the most dramatic backdrops and lighting ever to grace a Douglas County stage.
The resulting whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts, and is sure to leave you — to quote Donkey — “caught up in the magic of the night.”