How well is a film (particularly an animated one) going to transfer to a stage musical? That is always the question when you go to see a show like this. The answer to this question is very well actually. Shrek The Musical manages to retain that element of seeing our favourite fairy tale characters in a slightly different light while at the same time giving the audience a real theatrical musical show.
Developing Shrek as a musical was always going to be a difficult task as the source material is inherently a children’s show yet there has to be enough there for an adult audience too. If the audience reactions tonight from adults and the many children that were in the theatre are typical of a performance, then Shrek The Musical manages to tread that very thin line of pleasing both audiences very well.
Although we have a host of fairy tale characters on-stage, the central cast are really four characters – Shrek (Dean Chisnall), Princess Fiona (Bronte Barbe), Lord Farquaad (Gerard Carey) and Donkey (Idriss Kargbo).
Dean Chisnall is a good Shrek. Fine Scottish accent (as given to Shrek by Mike Myers in the films) and resplendent with tartan trousers could maybe start an Ogreish tribute band version of The Bay City Rollers. Dean has a difficult job on stage as underneath that Shrek make-up he somehow has to display real depths of emotion to his character and does it very well.
Bronte Barbe for me is my favourite here as Princess Fiona. Bronte actually gets some of the best lines in the show and some nice song and dance numbers. Also, Bronte gets to play a princess slightly unhinged after being locked up in a tower since she was 7 years old and does a great job with this character.
Gerard Carey gets to be over the top (well as over the top as his vertically challenged character can ever be) as Lord Farquaad and those of us old enough to remember him will recognise a bit of the late Kenny Everett in this performance.
Idriss Kargbo as Donkey is not only a talking donkey (every fairy tale needs one), but also a soul singing donkey. Idriss actually gets probably more on-stage time than any other character and sings, dances, jokes his way through it all in style.
There is also an amazing huge dragon on stage and a very good team of puppeteers handling it . A sort of over the top Chinese festival dragon.
This is a musical of course and once you strip the almost pantomime elements of the children’s story away, Shrek has to stand on the music and songs too. Although there are some comedy songs in there, there are some real show tunes if you listen to the lyrics. Standing out for me amongst them is “Freak Flag”. This one has the ability to be adopted by many as almost an anthem – like songs such as “I Am What I Am”, “I Will Survive” and “True Colours” all have over the years. A real gem of a song hidden away a bit amongst the others from this show.
All of our principal characters do a great song and dance job here, but are backed up by a very able cast.
Nice also is a great version of Neil Diamond’s classic song that The Monkees had a huge 1960s hit with – “I’m a Believer”.
Shrek is what it is, a fun show for all the family.
Like all fairy tales, Shrek has a moral tale too and the message is to judge people by what they look like on the inside and not on the outside. If at the end of the day after all the pantomime and songs, Shrek can get people leaving the show with that message then a great job has been done.
Review by Tom King