TAMPA — Right from the start, whether you've seen the movie or not, you pretty much know exactly where Shrek: The Musical is headed.
That's not a problem. Shrek doesn't pretend to be anything but playful and affectionate twisting of familiar fairy tale conventions and characters.
So the problem is not that it tells you where it's going, but that it takes so long to get there. At almost three hours, Shrek: The Musical is awfully long for a show that's designed to appeal to kids.
Even for adults — at whom it's equally aimed — Shrek is a fanny-twitcher. The first act drags badly, with little plot, no great songs and an exhausting barrage of sight gags. And in fact it's midway through the second act before the show develops a heart.
The musical follows the story of the first of the four Shrek films fairly faithfully. The titular ogre, living sadly but comfortably alone in a swamp, finds his privacy invaded by fairy tale characters banished by an evil prince.
He wants them out, and the prince says he'll move them if Shrek will rescue a princess from a tower that's guarded by a dragon. The prince wants to marry the princess, but Shrek and the princess fall in love, and we all learn a lesson about inner beauty.
The book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire (who won a Pulitzer Prize for the stark drama The Rabbit Hole) are consistently amusing, but a bit obsequious. To try to please adults, Lindsay-Abaire indiscriminately floods the play with mild double entendres and gratuitous pop-culture references, including visual allusions to Les Miserables and The Lion King.
None of Jeanine Tesori's music is bad — which is rare in such a song-heavy show — but none of it is memorable either.
The best aspects of this touring Broadway production of Shrek come in the performances. Haven Burton stands out as the princess; even Eric Petersen, who's very amusing throughout as Shrek, seems to step up his performance once Burton enters the proceedings. Alan Mingo Jr. is appropriately annoying as the fast-talking Donkey and David F.M. Vaughn gets many of the show's biggest laughs as the prince. (The normal-sized Vaughn, who went to East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, plays a very short prince in one of the shows' most successful visual gags.) Blakeley Slaybaugh is delightful as Pinocchio and steals a few scenes with his rubbery physicality.
Tim Hatley's costumes are wondrous, but his puppets are phenomenal. An undeniable highlight of the show is his sinewy, stage-filling dragon.
Shrek ends up being quite entertaining, and even tugs a bit on the old heartstrings. If someone, somewhere along the way, had advised Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori to prune 30 or 45 minutes, Shrek: The Musical could have been something truly special.
Times correspondent Marty Clear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.