By Rosie Niven
He’s big, green, ugly, and most importantly, wants to know what the hell you’re doing in his swamp. Ring a bell?
After much anticipation, our favourite green ogre has hit the Sydney stage. Winning over crowds on Broadway, the multi million dollar musical swoops in with a star-studded cast, 19 songs, and all of the best parts we remember from original Dreamworks movie. But do millions make for a great show?
When you’re spending it on voices like Marcia Hines and comedic talent like Todd McKenney, it seems as if the team behind this production are putting their money in the right place. Paired with Ben Mingay as a hideously charming Shrek, Lucy Durack as a vivacious (and sometimes just as hideous) Princess Fiona and Nat Jobe as the persistent yet lovable Donkey, the cast has all the makings to bring this nostalgic show to life. Did I mention that Hines plays a 100-foot magenta dragon, and McKenney spends the entire show shuffling on his knees to emulate a vertically challenged Lord Farquaad? (I know this sounds low budget but it’s truly hilarious) Impressive too are the powerhouse ensemble of fairytale misfits banished to the swamp, each bringing punchy vocals and delightful character to a work which many came to with high expectations.
It’s not the kids that are coming with high expectations either - it’s the adults that fondly remember this twisted fairytale from their childhood when it was released in 2001, or those that can recite nearly every word because their kids made them watch it multiple times in a weekend. It’s us that came to be impressed, hoping the wry adult humour that made the original film an all-ages hit made the cut into the new musical. Thankfully, the parts of the story so affectionately remembered by lots of us shine on stage: the cheeky song that welcomes Shrek and Donkey to Duloc, the constant fart jokes (these felt almost more frequent than the film), and the mispronunciation of Lord Farquaad’s name to sound very close to a swear word. These were the moments that affirmed for me why this story was brought back to life 19 years later.
Adding to the fun is the addition of vibrant musical numbers, particularly those that featured the ensemble. The large cast all bring incredible voices to the stage, but at times the talent felt under-utilised - Hines’ powerful voice is only quickly featured, and the ensemble appear so infrequently it’s easy to forget they were even there. This is disappointing when you hear a gutsy belt from Manon Gunderson-Briggs, or the resonant voice of Sarah Murr, and you realise the talent you’re missing out on.
The set and costumes added to the fairytale magic of Shrek - walking into the theatre, we were greeted with a giant storybook, from which characters jumped out and pages turned, drawing us into Shrek’s story. The greatest wonder in the design is the creation of an eight-foot ogre that resembled the original animation but still allowed Mingay to emote expressively. Not only that, but dance, sing, and dip Princess Fiona down to kiss her. Designers Naomi Donne and Tim Hatley should be commended on bringing these elements to life (especially the fact that Hatley created a 100-foot dragon that slid around the stage and terrified the children). However, I’d hoped for a little more from the set - in such a grand space as the Lyric Theatre, there’s so much room for the grandiose and the fantastic, and in a play about a giant ogre finding true love, I wanted some more magic from the set.
Shrek the Musical has moments of brilliance, but at times lacked the drive and passion from the cast that would have made it truly shine. It is, however, a work to take the kids to - they’ll sing along, dance in their seats, or if you’ve got a confident kid like opening night had, they’ll chat back to the actors. The kids walking out of that theatre were beaming, telling their parents how much they loved the characters, and the songs, and the larger than life dragon. So while it might not be the magic some of us adults were hoping for, you can take your kids to it knowing that they’ll get to see a bit of theatre magic… and they’ll be all the better for it. Unless they start farting everywhere.
Image Credit: Brian Geach
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.