Shrek: The Musical – Review – York Grand Opera House
By Gail Schuster, September 2019
As the latest production of Shrek: The Musical opened at the York Grand Opera House, I wondered how such a successful and well-loved animation could be brought to life as a stage show, as there are some very big shoes to fill – ogre sized ones, in fact.
For those who are not familiar with the story; Shrek is an ogre who lives on his own in a swamp. His tranquil life is shattered one day by the arrival of a rag-tag group of fairy tale misfits, who have been thrown out of the Lordship of Duloc by the ambitious and cowardly Lord Farquaad.
To save his swamp, he decides to go and complain to Farquaad. Along the way he meets a fast-talking donkey, who attaches himself to the unwilling hero. Slyly Farquaad does a deal with Shrek, promising to give him back the swamp, on condition that he rescues Princess Fiona from her tower, protected by a fiery dragon – the villain wishes to marry her in order to become king. The tale is an ironic twist on a traditional fairy story that explores the themes of friendship, first impressions and beauty.
“Humour and poignancy”
There are lots of laughs in this production, some favourites from the film appear, such as the bird who explodes when Princess Fiona is singing, but there are lots of new ones too. The character of Lord Farquaad, played brilliantly by Joe Wawrzyniak, has a much greater role in the stage show and is also given a backstory, explored in “The Ballad of Farquaad”. This is hilarious and one of the most humorous scenes in the production. There is also a very funny running joke about Lord Farquaad’s legs, which causes many chuckles throughout the evening.
It really is the multi-talented cast who bring this performance to life. As well as good comic timing, all the main characters have strong, powerful singing voices. Nic Briggs, who plays the smitten ogre, brings humour and poignancy to the piece, ‘When Words Fail’. The crux of the number is Shrek’s nervousness and uncertainty about what he should say to Princess Fiona and how she will respond to his feelings for her. The words comically reflect his inner turmoil: “You remind me of that moon because its big and bright; and by big I don’t mean chubby; obviously you’re not fat… Sorry ‘bout that fat thing I’m on the hefty side myself.”
Donkey, performed by Chris Knight, is entertaining throughout and I particularly enjoyed the scene where the love-struck dragon belts out a song to the four-footed sidekick, whilst fluttering her eyes at him.
The songs in the musical are different to the film and they wouldn’t work as standalone numbers like some might from other productions, but it’s worth paying attention to the clever and witty lyrics, written by David Lindsay-Abaire: “Daddy didn’t talk much, he barely said hello. He’d simply mutter “Heigh Ho.” And off to work he’d go.”
Shrek: The Musical is a wonderful, colourful, family show. It brought fairy tale magic to the Grand Opera House, from the fabulous costumes, complete with Pinocchio’s growing nose to the vibrant backdrops of the scenery. The audience, both young and old, very much enjoyed this sparkling performance. As the titular ogre puts it: “That’ll do Donkey, that’ll do”.