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West Jordan Youth Theatre: Shrek Review

Here is a thorough review of West Jordan Youth Theatre's Shrek done by Bridges Eatchel

Aaron, Megan, and I had the absolute joy of attending a phenomenal production of Shrek the Musical, presented by West Jordan Youth Theatre. I was asked to provide a review of our experience, and couldn’t be more thrilled to do so. We have long enjoyed attending productions from WJYT, and we always love to be given an invitation to attend again.

Shrek the Musical is a delightful retelling of the animated film, but with quite a bit more punch and a whole lot more laughs. It features a cast full of your favorite characters and favorite moments, with some shockingly beautiful and moving music to boot. Shrek the Musical is one of my favorite musicals, and I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous going into it—but was impressed to see how the wonderful cast and crew did the show justice.

The titular character, Shrek, (played by Jacob Sorenson) is a clear standout in the cast. I was genuinely shocked when Sorenson first began speaking—the accent alone in a young performer is incredibly impressive. Pair that with brilliant acting chops and comedic timing, and a strong clear set of vocals, and you have a wonderful performance. Sorenson knows how to work a stage, particularly in those comedic moments. He really fed off of the audience and kept the pace of the show very strong. While I would have liked a touch more pain during his rendition of Build a Wall, his beautiful performance of When Words Fail truly sold the show for me. I loved the acting choices and movement in the song. Sorenson is a truly talented and strong performer, and I would have loved to see him lean into a few more bold character choices during his other songs. But overall, Sorenson gives one of the best performances of the role that I have seen, including adults—Sorenson has a clear future in theatre ahead of him.

In a strong counterpart to Sorenson is Donkey (Jude Mann). Mann is a wonderful young performer with a fun, new take on Donkey. The character really grew on me as the show progressed. Mann really leans into those one liners that feel like they come out of nowhere, and had me laughing out loud multiple times in the show. I particularly enjoyed his performance of Make a Move, which paired wonderfully with the 3 blind mice (Hannah Hansen, Samantha Humphrey, Ava Mousley). There were a few moments where I found myself wishing Mann would slow down and really relish in some of his lines (because they’re so funny, so I don’t want to miss them), but overall I was simply charmed by his performance and found myself missing him when he wasn’t on stage.

Sorenson also pairs perfectly with Fiona (played by Ella Henrie). Their performance of I Think I’ve Got You Beat had be absolutely cackling—and featured one of my favorite choreography / staging moments of the show (the “pull my finger” moment was just immaculate). Henrie herself is a well-seasoned performer and clear standout. From her first moments on stage til the very end, Henrie perfectly embodies the role of Fiona. I absolutely adored her rendition of Morning Person, a wonderful tap number choreographed by Henrie herself (and starring a talented young tapper, Cater Mann, as Pied Piper, along with an ensemble of dancing rats—Cali Douglas, Stella Sallay, Cameron Crook, Luke Summers, Micaela Page, Penny Hodson, Isabelle Madsen, and Evie Page).

Henrie also stars in my personal favorite part of this particular production—I Know It’s Today, performed by Young Fiona (Penny Hodson), Teen Fiona (Cali Douglas) and Fiona. The harmonies in this song—y’all, I would pay to see even just this song done again. The trio is utterly perfect. Hodson, Douglas, and Henrie’s voices blend so perfectly together. My husband and I were trying to contain squeals of excitement as part after part of a challenging song (particularly for such young performers) were absolutely nailed. In particular, Hodson is a very clear standout. I am genuinely shocked to see such talent in someone so young in community theatre—it gives me a great deal of excitement for the future of theatre.

Also in clear need of mentioning is Lord Farquaad (Setu Lealaogata). Lealaogata is a very talented performer with excellent comedic timing. The way the character is done is just delightful, and I love to see how much of his own interpretation of the character Lealaogata put into the role. I was absolutely dying of laughter the first moment Lealaogata stepped on stage, and carried that energy through the very end. In particular, I really enjoyed Lealaogata’s vocal choices. He has a smooth, almost jazzy quality to his voice that made his songs particularly enjoyable. I truly enjoyed his decisions to opt up, especially in (I think it was) Ballad of Farquaad. I loved how thoroughly Lealaogata embodied his character, and how he always found a moment to make a choice rather than just stand (er—kneel?) on the stage and sing out.

Another clear star of the show is the powerhouse, Dragon (performed by Stella Sallay). Sallay’s voice is rich and full, and very well suited for the role. The song Forever can sometimes fall flat in other productions, but certainly not here. Every audience member was glued onto Sallay as she rocked the stage vocally. I would have enjoyed a few more opportunities for Sallay to perform a bit more physically in terms of the staging, but overall her performance was very strong.

Not to be forgotten are also Pinocchio (Lucy Stahl) and Gingy (Daisy Vandergrift). Stahl and Vandergrift are to be commended for their excellent character voices and strong performances! Those roles are hard to play (particularly vocally, they can put a lot of strain on your voice) but the two handled it like champs! I truly enjoyed their performances during Freak Flag in particular.

While I wish I could mention each cast member individually, with a cast so large, there’s simply no way to do so. But, here are a few standouts from the rest of the cast:

Annalise James as Humpty Dumpty—an absolutely wonderful voice and strong character choices. She was always engaged in the scene and a joy to watch and listen to.

Micaela Page as Sugar Plum Fairy—another great voice and strong performance. I loved how immersed she was in the scene, and how fully she devoted herself to the role.

The 3 Pigs (Carter Mann, Taylor Dayton, and Cameron Crook), who had excellent accent work and characterization.

Alayna Bell as Little Red Riding Hood—my eyes were on her constantly. She gave such a strong performance and was a clear standout in the ensemble.

Ellis Mann as Grumpy. SO CUTE. There are no other words.

There are so many others I wish I could highlight, but in a review that’s already two pages long, suffice it to say: the cast is wonderful and you should go see it.

Congratulations to director Travis Hall and assistant director Brook Mann on an incredible show. The show is cohesive and thoughtful in its presentation, and they’ve both managed to somehow fit an enormous amount of children on a small stage without it looking messy or sloppy (truly a feat). Music Director Sarah Goldberg has worked magic with a cast of young performers to create vocal sounds that are clean, clear, and bright. I was so impressed with the harmonies throughout the show. Choreographer Laura Malmstrom made the dances fun and engaging. I was particularly impressed with the costuming done by Brook Mann—while I have long enjoyed Brook’s costuming, this show was a clear standout. There wasn’t a single costume out of place, and many had a lot of intricate detailing. I was particularly impressed with the costumes for Donkey and Dragon (and can we talk about the dragon, designed by Travis and Sydney Hall??? OBSESSED).

Overall, I highly recommend seeing this show. It’s just a bucket load of fun, and the chance to see an enormous pool of talented young performers is one you don’t want to miss. It is essential to support these young performers now—these are the kids who will go on to star on Broadway, at The Hale or Pioneer Theatre Company, or anywhere else that they want to. By supporting them today, you support them in the future they can go on to pursue (and get bragging rights of “knowing them before they were famous.”)

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