With its beloved characters and exceptional cast performances, SHREK THE MUSICAL exudes the same rewatchable charm as the films.
You don’t need a magic mirror to predict the delight that SHREK THE MUSICAL’s live adaptation will bring to younger audiences, but its humdrum soundtrack may dim its shine for the big kids amongst them.
Pushing back on the familiar fairy-tale tropes and romanticised themes around true love, SHREK THE MUSICAL brings the 2001 animation to life with an honest take on the Disney mythology we have all been indoctrinated by. Despite faithfully breaking away from the cult, writer David Lindsay-Abaire takes the DreamWorks tale on a predictable path that enhances its cartoonish stylings for the stage but doesn’t always deliver the memorable melodies of your heart’s desire.
Shrek (Antony Lawrence) takes us all the way back to his childhood to give the Scottish ogre a bit more backstory than the film. Raised as an outcast and out on his own by the age of seven, the song BIG BRIGHT BEAUTIFUL WORLD sets the tone for the light and self-deprecating musical numbers that run throughout the show. Similarly, with Princess Fiona (Joanne Clifton) there is an opportunity to tease where her pursuit for love began, with a charming performance by Clifton and her two mini-mes singing KNOW IT’S TODAY.
While the show fluidly crisscrosses between the fairy-tale characters’ takeover of Shrek’s swamp and his journey to rescue the princess. Manchester’s Opera House audience is immersed in the perfect town of Duloc and its surroundings, complete with life-size singing dolls, a soulful gingerbread man and the sharp James Gillan playing its ruler, Lord Farquaad. Performing some killer dance choreography with the extensive ensemble, Gillan’s bejewelled costumes, dazzling performance and snappier lines help him steal the show. Alongside the live orchestration and visually impressive projections and props, the sweet and familiar tale reshapes itself into a reliable and loveable live production.
You can’t help but admire the entire cast for offering such committed performances to their characters, in spite of the clear difficulties their costumes bring. Despite being wrapped in heavy facial prosthetics, Lawrence is able to help the audience see past his mask and appreciate his fantastic vocals. While Brandon Lee Sears’s (Donkey) full fur jumpsuit doesn’t even hamper his choreographed splits or Barry White impersonation.
The visual jokes are also on overdrive as Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston’s direction is set to ensure that the show moves swiftly for the kids in the audience. However, the second act does include quite arbitrary lyrics as the show is forced to deal with the side-lined fairy-tale characters who have mobilised into a curious union.
Yet, there is definitely enough to keep adults engaged throughout the family-friendly story, with a plethora of references to other musicals, a terrific performance from Cherece Richards as the imposing puppet dragon and Fiona breaking into a tidy tap-dancing number. It is also a relief to know that you do not have to have a child in tow to sit through this musical, in fact, a childless adult sitting through the song Freak Flag may be more reassured by their choice.
While the show is not the sing-along musical you would hope from the long-established SHREK franchise, its extensive cast of familiar characters and terrific performances redeems this affectionate live adaption.
Barely deviating from the classic and leaving audiences on the feel-good finale, I’M A BELIEVER by Smash Mouth, SHREK THE MUSICAL has the same rewatchable quality as its films, holding out as a laudable, good time.
SHREK THE MUSICAL runs at the Opera House, Manchester, until 12 August 2023
Frances Scott is a graduate of the MA Contemporary Literature and Film course at Manchester Metropolitan University. As a content writer, she has worked with The Reviews Hub, Northern Soul and frequently posts theatre reviews on her website www.101Frances.com. You can also follow her on Instagram (101Frances) and Twitter (@FrancesScott1).