Saturday, 2 August 2014

REVIEW: Shrek the musical at Leeds Grand Theatre


Having ‘greenified’  both Broadway and the West End, Shrek the Musical kicks off its UK & Ireland Tour in Leeds and it certainly lands on its fat green feet. This touring production is full of infectious energy and Broadway magic, and looks certain to delight audiences universally. There’s a never a dull moment in this smart and intelligent stage adaptation.

The story matches that of the film fairly closely. We follow Shrek and Donkey, forced onto a quest to save Princess Fiona by the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad. We see the gradual unravelling of Shrek’s character, as he and Princess Fiona embark on a more personal journey together. There’s a heap of fairytale characters thrown in, and a rather impressive dragon. Together, they make a show with real heart and intimacy, combined with big ensemble show-stopping energy, and that’s what makes Shrek really shine.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s witty book rarely loses momentum, supported by Jeanine Tesori’s bouncy and generally memorable score, occasionally uncomfortably shoe-horned in. The comedy is well-placed, appealing to a younger audience whilst also being intelligent, alongside the odd slightly more adult (though subtle) reference. The audience’s response to Shrek said it all - children and adults alike were clearly enjoying themselves, and they were all up on their feet by the end. 

Original London Lord Farquaad, Nigel Harman has adapted the original direction for the tour, and his influence is obvious. The cast really carry the show, more than in London, and are never complacent with the material. Combined with the eye-popping, versatile design by Tim Hatley (sets & costume) and Hugh Vanstone & Matt Daw (lighting), this production really fizzes. Visually, it certainly doesn’t feel like a downgrade from London, and sound-wise, the orchestra, under the direction of Dave Rose, sound fantastic, much improved by an all-new sound design. 

Dean Chisnall reprises his performance in the title role, strong-voiced with balanced acting, if a little too jolly sometimes. He bounces wonderfully with fine-voiced Faye Brookes’ multi-tiered and effortless Princess Fiona. 

The character of Donkey still appears problematic. Idriss Kargbo fairs better than his London counterpart, with a camp enthusiasm, but refinement is still needed. The return and revising of Donkey’s ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ is welcome, but Kargbo doesn’t quite hit the mark vocally. 

As Lord Farquaad, Gerard Carey steals every scene he’s in, with an excellent comedic and vocal performance. There are also notable performances from Will Haswell as Pinocchio, Nikki Bentley as Gingy, and Candace Fubert as the fiery dragon. However, the real star of this show is the fantastic young ensemble. Their energy bursts off the stage, culminating in the catchy ‘Freak Flag’ with a great satirical nod to Les Misérables (Farquaad’s reference to Wicked’s Defying Gravity is also worthy of a mention).

If you’ve ever been debating whether to see Shrek the Musical, now is the time. A lack-lustre and slightly disappointing production in London gave Shrek the Musical a bad name, but there’s no need to worry here. This is a spectacular and vibrant touring production with a strong, energetic cast. The production is slick, great sounding, and great looking. Funny, feel-good and with a warm, moral story to tell, Shrek on tour is definitely worth seeing.

-Guest Review 

Rating: ★★★★

Shrek is playing in Leeds until 17th August, then on tour around the UK. 


Cast includes: Dean Chisnall, Faye Brookes, Idriss Kargbo, Gerard Carey, Bronté Barbé, Nikki Bentley, Jennifer Caldwell, Candace Furbert, Steffan Harri, Will Haswell, James Lacey, Mia Lincoln, Neil Moors, Jenny O’Leary, Georgina Parkinson, Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton, Ryan Reid, Leo Roberts, Jacqui Sanchez, Oliver Tester and Kerry Winter.

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