Shrek The Musical – 12 November 2019, Lyceum Theatre

Review by Peter Taranaski.

“At the Lyceum this blustery, stormy November we got the chance to walk through a fairytale forest, a landscape bursting with song and synchronised dancing all underneath a musical green glow. Rather than the green associated with highly regarded musical “Wicked” we instead tread upon the swamp green of the meta-fairy comedy “Shrek”, and it is a joy.

Shrek: The Musical, for the uninitiated, is a musical based on the hit animated film of 2001. It follows the tribulations of an ogre whose quiet loneliness is punctuated by a bunch of fairytale creatures moving to his land under the orders of the short and tyrannical Lord Farquaad. In order to reclaim his solitude he goes to the town of Duloc to argue for the deeds to his swamp. Shrek meets the loveable motormouth that is Donkey along the way and a quest to rescue royalty, Princess Fiona from the confines of a dragon guarded tower. Like the Steig picture book it is also based on, the musical adds an element of parallel childhoods between Shrek and Fiona and the two fall in love. There are misunderstandings, many cultural references, allusions to gay rights and a jazzy, soulful, rock soundtrack along the way.

Adapting Shrek for the musical stage and making it leap from computer animation to live representation is a challenge, to say the least. Thankfully the STOS theatre company (http://www.stos.org.uk/) and all the performers bring something slightly newer or sharper to the characters we know and love sometimes exaggerating their traits into howling absurdity. Let us turn to the actors.

Mark Holme’s Shrek has the characteristic Scottish lilt, but injects several of the scenes with a little more sass and sarcasm then Mike Myers’ voice conveys. He is not world weary but is somewhat knowing of the rules of this strange society… except of course when it comes to love. Damien Ross exudes the sense of craft and care to portray Donkey exactly how you would expect him to be. He is a finely tuned piano; no key is out of place; be it the blank stare, the nonsensical rant or the communicating of home truths; he does a fantastic job. Sarah Hibberd’s “Fiona” is singular. She plays up the neuroticism and tomboyish qualities of the character to a tee, her songs are moving and both character and acting are fierce. Villain-wise Richard Granger’s “Lord Farquaad” is dripping in contempt, he is Rocky Horror’s Frankenfurter in all his kitchy menace, the energetic camp of Kenny Everett and a dash of Rossiter’s lecherous Rigsby in the mix. His shuffling along the stage gets the biggest laughs of the night and the actor relishes the stage space every moment he gets. There are several characters who in the animated feature played the part of a winking aside, or cool cultural reference for adults, e.g. “he huffed and he puffed and he.. Signed an eviction notice” but here they are like coat hooks which the play hangs on to make a more meaningful message especially  about the LGBTQ community (the characters say they are all “freaks” and wave the rainbow flag).  

The whole affair continues in this more meaningful vein which makes it even more pertinent to parents wanting to teach children about the real world. The adult moments are more risque than the animation (I am looking at and can’t stop staring at the executioner’s codpiece) while it still retaining bucketloads of the farts and bodily humour that the kids love (they certainly did here). It is in short a great family outing.    

All associated directors: Mark Feakins (Director) Tom Owen (Musical Director), Claire Harriott (Choreographer) have injected this musical with a feel-good sense of energy. The attention to detail is something else from the functional and vibrant sets (Scenic Projects) to the exquisite professional level costumes (Charades Theatrical Musical Hire) and the true-to-film dragon puppet (of which there are so many talented puppeteers here). There is a lot of love that has been brought here.

Songwise there are some great numbers such as the jazz extravaganza of “Things are looking up in Dulop” to the duelling song of miserable childhoods between Shrek and Fiona, “I Think I Got You Beat”. Other notable numbers are the bird-exploding, dancing mice optimism of “The Morning Person” and Hibberd (alongside younger Fionas’) song “I know it’s today” that allows the character’s neuroticism to be on show for all to see. The most explosive number is probably 

“Forever”. The song that captures Donkey and the Dragon’s feelings is a fantastic track complete with dancing skeletons, the dragon puppet and old bearded men in stocks. It was especially good to see the singer (Cholwe Muntanga) during the final sequence too as this song blows the roof off and her voice radiates the warmth of our beloved sun. 

All-in-all an excellent show, well worth the admission STOS’ “Shrek: The Musical” sets an incredibly high bar for musical theatre in Sheffield, and unlike Farquaad’s massive castle.. It isn’t compensating for anything.”

Shrek: The Musical will be performed at the Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 16 November. For further information and to book visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/shrek-the-musical

STOS Theatre Company aims to produces the world’s top musicals for and by the people of South Yorkshire. There productions have been seen by over 15,000 in the last three years alone. For further information visit www.stos.org.uk.

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