Shrek – The Musical
17th October 2023
The ‘Shrek’ franchise was Dreamworks’ subversive attempt to parody the clichés of the fairy tales that we all grew up with, and became a massive success (somehow over 20 years ago). Following in Disney’s footsteps, a stage adaptation was inevitable, which hit Broadway in 2008 and later London’s West End in 2011. Remaining faithful to the film’s narrative while incorporating an original score by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, the musical is back touring the UK, and the lovable green ogre’s journey takes him this week to Leicester’s Curve.
Exiled as a child and hated by the local villagers, Shrek (played here by Antony Lawrence) avoids as much human contact as possible, preferring instead to live by himself. When flamboyant Lord Farquad (James Gillan) decrees that all fairytale creatures must leave the kingdom, they descend on Shrek’s swamp with nowhere else to go. Shrek visits Farquad to demand his swamp back, which Farquad agrees to, on the condition that Shrek rescue Princess Fiona (former Strictly pro Joanne Clifton) from a dragon-guarded tower, who’s to be Farquad’s queen. Shrek undertakes the mission, with wisecracking Donkey by his side (Brandon Lee Sears), but soon realises that this may be a quest for something else entirely.
The jury may still be out as to whether ‘Shrek’ “needed” to be turned into a musical (but then, does anything?), and Tesori’s score doesn’t really add much to the already-strong material, but as feel-good family entertainment, it delivers. Full of colour, invention and bodily-function humour, it’s a show that appeals to little and big kids alike, and is a lot of fun. The story does feel padded out at times to sustain its running time, and it could do with a couple more solidly memorable songs (although it is without doubt Tesori’s most accessible score), but the show delivers the film’s narrative in an engaging and lively way. David Lindsey-Abaire’s lyrics are sharp and full of references to numerous other musicals, which show fans will love, and the ensemble sell the group numbers with an infectious energy, particularly outsider-anthem “Freak Flag” and the “I’m A Believer” finale which sends the audience out on a high.
‘Shrek’ is certainly a very attractive show, with visually impressive sets and costumes (Nick Winston), some clever video design (Nina Dunn) and lighting by the always-reliable Ben Cracknell. Choreography (also by Winston) is dynamic and performed well, really giving the ensemble of fairytale characters a whimsical sense of character. Winston also directs the production (alongside Samuel Holmes), and the sense of an anti-fairytale is effectively delivered throughout. Various reductions have been made to some of the show’s larger moments (in order to make the show able to tour), which, although understandable, do unfortunately feel a little underwhelming in comparison, with key deliverables such as the dragon puppet being particularly anaemic. Another big change is the reimagining of the short-statured Lord Farquad, who is no longer performed by the actor on his knees and cleverly costumed. In these PC-times, the change is understandable, however much of the comedy (which was never mean-spirited) now falls flat. The change is also a little confusing considering jokes around Grumpy the dwarf and a cross-dressing wolf have been left in (again, good-natured).
Antony Lawrence leads the show well as Shrek, with a likeable animation and strong singing voice. Strangely for the lead character, he often takes a back seat to Donkey (Brandon Lee Sears in fine form and putting his ‘Dreamgirls’ Jimmy Early skills to fantastic use) and Fiona (Joanne Clifton defying “stunt casting” and being genuinely funny with a great belting voice). Other standouts are Georgie Buckland who not only gives great personality to the Gingerbread Man puppet but also shows off some impressive vocals, and also Mark D’Arcy as Pinocchio, nailing the mannerisms and really embodying the character. Stealing the show from under everyone’s nose however is recent graduate Cherece Richards, who provides the singing voice of the dragon, and what a voice. Her range is seemingly endless and with power to match, she brings real fire to the mythical beast and is an absolute powerhouse to watch. We can only hope she goes on to great things as she’s undoubtedly a star in the making.
High-brow culture it isn’t, but fun family entertainment it most certainly is. ‘Shrek’ is a great alternative to the more sugary Disney fare, and with some excellent performances from Sears, Clifton and Richards, this musical’s appeal is far from “ogre”.
‘Shrek’ runs at Leicester’s Curve until Saturday 21st October
Performance runtime 2 hours 35 minutes including interval