Original review: The Reviews Hub
Hefty, hearty & gorgeously green
An offbeat fairytale about being a believer in happily-ever-afters for the beautiful and ogreish alike, Shrek the Musical is a hefty, hearty, gorgeously green show that lets its Freak Flag fly but its originality fall victim to fart gags and the far-greater film.
The original film won an Oscar and a legion of fans for its animation and imagination, but originality is what’s lost in the musical: though full of animated characters and moments of imagination – with magical transformations, Josh Prince’s rat-tapping choreography, and impressive puppetry – David Lindsay-Abaire’s book is indebted to the film for its laughs and adapts its famous lines and filmic beats verbatim. Whilst as bold and bright as the film, it feels less than fresh, and with lots of allusions to other musicals, some of them also from movies – from Les Misérables to The Lion King, Gypsy to Dreamgirls – forced in without rhyme or remark, the musical emphasises, albeit affectionately, the flaws and imitations of its book.
The musical – and Jeanine Tesori’s music – is at its greatest and most unforgettable with its most familiar fairytale characters, with Joseph Dockree’s high-pitched puppet Pinocchio, Jemma Revell’s heroic, tortured-on-a-tea-tray Gingy and the rest of the fantastic company all letting their Freak Flag fly with flair and effortless fun. Josh Prince’s joyous choreography is full of character, and Tim Hatley’s cinematic costumes are a colourful, fanciful feast that the sets and effects can’t quite complement. Hatley’s puppet designs, especially the prima donna Dragon sung like a true diva offstage by Lucinda Shaw, not only echo the film but develop it to showcase a theatrical craft, something that the show demands more of, as Nigel Harman’s humorous and hearty direction loses some of its heart to one too many farts and a dependence on the film rather than the theatrics.
Along with the impeccably entertaining company, the principal performances are just as fun, with Michael Carolan’s estranged Scottish outcast Shrek wonderfully comic and gorgeously sung, especially in the opening ‘Big Bright Beautiful World’, and Amelia Lily’s likewise-estranged and unconventional Princess Fiona is spirited and gritty and sings as beautifully as she burps through her affirming duet with Shrek, ‘I Think I Got You Beat’, and dances the rat tap with the waistcoat-wearing rodents well. Marcus Ayton is a dangerously sassy, adeptly sung Donkey, although much of the characterisation is Eddie Murphy’s from the film, but Shrek’s show-stealer is Samuel Holmes’s droll, diminutive villain Lord Farquaad; shuffling on his knees, shrieking his decrees, and shining in his ditty ‘What’s Up, Duloc?’
If Shrek is a film about believing in the beauty within, the show celebrates its beauty with its look, famous lines, and laughs, but fails to find the beauty of the story itself, with too much artifice, too many farts, and too little heart; I’m a Believer in happily-ever-afters for ogres and beauties, but I also believe that for Shrek, the film works better than the show.