Front Row Review: Shrek The Musical

Date Posted: 20/06/2011

As the latest Broadway export threatens to paint the West End green, we find out if Shrek The Musical lives up to the media hype. Reviewed by Rebekah Tailor.

From its Broadway inauguration in 2008 to the announcement of a West End opening last summer, it’s fair to say that the anticipation surrounding Shrek The Musical has been building for some time. With much of the hype stemming from the popularity of the original DreamWorks animated motion picture (plus the subsequent sequels), as well as the unveiling of the British celebrities who were to lead the London cast, this anticipation was inevitably weighted by expectation.

Perhaps the fact that the Broadway production received no less than eight Tony Award nominations should speak for itself, but the cynic in me doubted whether there was a place in musical theatre for a giant green ogre, a talking donkey and a pint-sized prince - especially when the entire cast read like a list of pantomime renegades.

The production got off to a fantastic start however, and the lyrics of catchy opening number, Big Bright Beautiful World, encouraged a lot of laughs from an appreciative audience. The immediate initiation of our leading lady and green goliath, played by Amanda Holden and Nigel Lindsay, was also greeted with over-zealous applause - so clearly all the pre-publicity promoting the central cast had done its job.

Introduced to the secondary cast of fairytale characters in the next scene, this bright and lively bunch will make pantomime imitations seem cheap and pale in comparison. The costumes are marvellous, and the colourful chaos which ensues as Pinocchio, the three bears, the Ugly Duckling, a cross-dressing wolf, a trio of German pigs, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Peter Pan, a Wicked Witch and a Fairy Godmother all attempt to move in to Shrek’s swamp, ensure the audience remains fully immersed in this fantastical land of Far, Far Away.

Here’s where the action begins, as Shrek, infuriated by the sudden invasion of his swamp, marches forth to Duloc - attended by uninvited travelling companion, Donkey (Richard Blackwood) - to confront Lord Farquaad, the ruler responsible for turfing the fairytale misfits out of their homes. Played by a brilliantly camp Nigel Harman, Farquaad promises Shrek his land back on the condition that he completes a quest to rescue and return his bride-to-be Princess Fiona from her tower confines.

Reinterpreting all the elements of a traditional fairytale, the storyline pretty much adheres to the original movie plot - not altogether unexpected, but it does mean that audiences familiar with the film will have already heard the majority of gags and one-liners. It also results in inevitable comparisons between the characterisation on stage and on screen, and try as he might, Richard Blackwood just doesn’t deliver Donkey’s lines with as much attitude and conviction as Eddie Murphy’s animated creation.

Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden does enough to silence her critics in the role of Princess Fiona, and Nigel Lindsay’s stage presence and sheer likeability make for a brilliant Shrek. The undisputed star however, is Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad. His commitment to the role sees him spending the majority of the performance on his knees - a feat in itself, and superbly executed with great comic timing and a natural rapport with his appreciative audience.

Having said this, the highlight of Shrek The Musical isn’t its cast performance - individual or collective; it isn’t its mediocre yet memorable musical score, or its entertaining script. It is the brilliantly executed vision of producers’ DreamWorks Theatricals, in conjunction with the creative genius of set, costume and puppet designer, Tim Hatley. The set changes are flawless, and with a host of special effects combined with a clever and imaginative set design, it’s easy to see why Hatley was honoured with a Tony Award for Best Costume Design for the Broadway production.

As musicals go, Shrek doesn’t take itself too seriously (the satirical nod to musical theatre favourites only seeks to emphasise this), and this is no bad thing. Its sizeable budget and creative impact ensures it does not stray into pantomime territory, and audiences seeking a fun-filled production with plenty of laughs and the all-important feel-good factor are bound to enjoy it.

Shrek The Musical is currently booking at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until 19th February 2012. Performance times are Monday, and Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, with matinee performances at 3pm on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Discounted rates are available for groups of six or more people.



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