Music: Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Director: Nigel Harman
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The latest in a string of musicals based on feature films hits the Birmingham Hippodrome with this adaptation of the Dreamworks’ 2001 animated film, Shrek. The film managed to tell a heart-warming story while also being almost a parody of itself, poking good-natured fun at many animated films and including characters like Pinocchio and the Three Little Pigs. Being such an adaptation, Shrek the Musical is pretty much guaranteed packed houses, especially in school holidays, but can it overcome the obvious technical difficulties – a massive dragon being not least among them – and recreate the magic of the film?
The answer is a qualified yes. This is a rich, sumptuous production, full of movement and colour. It is slick and professional with catchy songs and terrific singers. And yes, the puppet dragon is very impressive, operated by four black-suited puppeteers and looking great. The shape-shifting princess is mildly less successful, but that is nit-picking compared to the glorious Lord Farquaad, His shuffling around the stage on his knees, gazing up at all around him is gloriously funny every time. And the show certainly gives its moral message, that one should never judge a book by its cover, the emphasis it deserves. But there are bits missing – in the first half, not all of the songs carry the story forward and it veers towards panto, straightening up just in time. After the interval, however, all the elements fit together harmoniously as we move to the obligatory happy ending for all (except possibly Farquaad)
Many will know the story – Shrek is an ogre happy living alone in his swamp, actively discouraging visitors. His nose is put out of joint when the diminutive Farquaad, played with verve by Gerard Carey, for reasons of his own banishes all fairy tale characters from the kingdom and sends them to Shrek’s swamp, The only way for Shrek to be rid of his unwelcome visitors is to help Lord Farquaad marry a bona fide princess in order to become king. Luckily, Princess Fiona is available, albeit imprisoned in a tower guarded by a fearsome dragon. So Shrek sets off to rescue her, with new-found companion, Donkey. They make an incongruous team, but do succeed where many have failed. However, the plans of Shrek and Farquaad are thrown off course as Shrek and Fiona discover an unlikely attraction and ultimately love conquers all, including a most bizarre pairing that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat just in time.
Dean Chisnall’s Shrek is well-judged. He is believable as the slightly reluctant irascible ogre, as the awkward suitor and the unexpected hero. His fills the stage literally and metaphorically, carrying much of the burden of story-telling. Faye Brooks’ slightly self-centred Fiona is also successful. The growth of her feelings for Shrek is well-painted and her initial anguish at ‘love’s true form’ is both petulant and heart-rending. Idriss Kargbo has big shoes to fill, taking on the rôle made famous on screen by Eddie Murphy. He successfully manages to channel his inner Murphy; he’s loud, brash and sassy, recreating the film Donkey well. But the scene-stealer every time he’s on stage is Carey’s Farquaad. Wonderfully conceited, he remains the centre of attention, if only to see what clever device can be used to maintain the illusion of his tiny stature.
Although clearly targeted at children, Shrek The Musical also rewards adults with some near-the-knuckle jokes and knowing looks that go over the younger audience members’ heads. The set, designed by Tim Hatley, is complex and supports the action well, transporting us between locations effectively as elements slide or are flown in.
So Shrek the Musical may not be perfect, but it is undoubtedly a genuinely entertaining night out for all the family.
Photo: Helen Maybanks | Runs until 26th April