Book & Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Nigel Harman
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
In 2001 DreamWorks introduced a generation to Scottish ogre Shrek and in doing so spawned a franchise; including four films, a spin-off and this stage musical, which having played Broadway and the West End now embarks on a second UK tour.
With a book by David Lindsay-Abaire Shrek the Musical captures the playful spirit of the film, that both embraces and then subverts traditional fairytale cliches. Fans will recognise a lot of the most memorable lines as the plot sticks closely to the original; Shrek teams up with a talking Donkey to rescue Princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded tower on the orders of diminutive despot Lord Farquaad.
Steffan Harri plays the titular character with a likeable charm, getting the balance just right as Shrek develops from gruff outsider to gentle romantic. Laura Main excels as the feisty Princess Fiona, who may have been locked in a tower but proves far from the stereotypical damsel in distress. Marcus Ayton is full of energy as chatterbox Donkey and Lucinda Shaw provides the best vocals of the night as the Dragon. Tour Director Nigel Harman won an Olivier Award for his own performance as Lord Farquaad in the original West End production, so it is perhaps no surprise to see that scenes involving the tiny tyrant are by far the highlight. Samuel Holmes may spend the whole time on his knees but still manages to run away with the show, possessing a real flair for comedy in both his physical dexterity and knowing asides to the audience.
The cast are all in fine voice and do justice to Jeanine Tesori’s varied score; the ensemble numbers are performed with precision and there are a colourful array of fairytale characters from Pinocchio to Peter Pan. ‘Freak Flag’ is a catchy, joyful celebration that sums up the overall message of the show; to value and embrace each others differences. Although sung beautifully, it is clear that children begin to lose interest and focus during the ballads however and there are some sequences that are perhaps too lengthy to hold their attention.
Those familiar with previous productions of the musical will spot a few changes, most notably in Fiona’s introductory number ‘I Know It’s Today’. Formerly performed by a Child and Teenage version of Fiona who then grows into her present-day self, Fiona now accompanies herself using puppets. Although Main does her best, the passage of time and affect on Fiona’s sanity doesn’t come across nearly as well and some of the wittiest lyrics fall flat.
Similarly, there are moments where the Empire’s large stage looks too bare and the forest scenes appear a little too plain, giving the overall impression that there has been some cost-cutting compared to previous productions. Those new to the show will not notice however and it is clear that there is a lot for both children and adults to enjoy with humour that caters to everyone. Kids love the competitive farting and burping in I Think I Got You Beat and adults giggle at some of the cheekier one-liners. Musical theatre fans will also enjoy spotting the references to other shows such as Gypsy, Wicked and Dreamgirls.
A faithful adaptation of the film, Shrek lends itself well to the musical format and the strong cast ensure a great evening of entertainment. With a rousing finale of I’m a Believer, Shrek remains enjoyable family fun that sends the audience out on a high.
Runs until 24 June 2018 | Image: Helen Maybanks