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"Shrek" pits Dreamworks against Disney on Broadway

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hollywood studio DreamWorks received warm reviews on Monday for its Broadway debut “Shrek the Musical,” which pits it against rival Walt Disney Co. on the Great White Way as theaters ride out the financial crisis.

Actors Justin Timberlake (L), Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas (R) pose beside the character Shrek during the premiere of 'Shrek The Third' in Madrid June 13, 2007. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

Based on the 1990 book about a green ogre and a princess and the 2001 Oscar-winning animated film -- the first of the DreamWorks trilogy -- “Shrek the Musical” takes on Disney shows “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Little Mermaid.”

“The maiden Broadway venture of DreamWorks Theatricals ... is definitely a cut above the most recent offerings from its creators’ direct competitor in cartoon-inspired musicals, Walt Disney,” wrote The New York Times’ Ben Brantley.

“Unlike that company’s ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Little Mermaid,’ ‘Shrek’ has the virtues of a comprehensible plot and identifiable characters,” he said. “But it seems to me that if ‘Shrek’ had more generally heeded its own advice about substance versus surface, it might have come closer to casting the spell that lets Broadway shows live happily ever after.”

“Tarzan” lasted just 14 months due to poor reviews and ticket sales, and “The Little Mermaid” opened in January to replace the 13-year-old “Beauty and the Beast.” “Mary Poppins” has grossed more than $100 million since opening in 2006 and “The Lion King” has made $600 million in 11 years on Broadway.

But as the financial crisis grips the world and productions prepare to compete for the fewer discretionary dollars, Disney is offering a free ticket to children under the age of 18 with the sale of an adult ticket for shows between January 6 and March 13.

Disney said it generated more than $2 million in sales in the past two weeks and on Monday announced that it would extend the offer for another week.

AUDIENCES FLAT

However, according to trade group The Broadway League, productions are grossing more than last year, although attendance is flat.

It said nearly 12.3 million Broadway tickets were sold in the 12 months to the end of May, producing $937 million in gross revenues -- a figure dampened by a 19-day stagehands strike in late 2007.

The strike has made it difficult to compare ticket sales, but the league said gross sales have totaled $518.9 million from the June 1 beginning of the season through mid-December, compared to a league “guesstimate” -- as if there had been no strike -- of $493.4 million for the same period in 2007.

“Shrek the Musical” is also competing for younger audiences against the recently opened “Billy Elliot the Musical,” based on 2000 Oscar nominated film about a British boy from a coal-mining town who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. “Billy Elliot” received rave reviews that boosted ticket sales to more than $1 million a week.

The New York Post and the Daily News both gave “Shrek the Musical” three stars out of five.

Joe Dziemianowicz of the Daily News described the show as “fine, not great,” while Barbara Hoffman of the Post wrote: “It takes nearly all of Act 1 before ‘Shrek the Musical’ starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive.”

USA Today’s Elysa Gardner praises “Shrek’s” lyrics and leading actors, but says: “All these assets do not add up to a great musical: That, by definition, would require great music. But Shrek is pretty grand entertainment, and to these eyes, it looks like a big, fat hit.”

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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