Shrek the Musical

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, music by Jeanine Tesori
Dreamworks Theatricals
Palace Theatre, Manchester

Dean Chisnall as Shrek and Faye Brookes as Princess Fiona Credit: Helen Maybanks
Gerard Carey as Lord Farquaad Credit: Helen Maybanks

This year's festive resident at Manchester's Palace Theatre is the disgusting but ultimately lovable green ogre Shrek, which most people know from the fun Dreamworks animated film from 2001.

The show hit the musical stage on Broadway in 2008, finally opening in London at Drury Lane three years later. It's taken another three years for the show to finally go on the road with this touring version, directed by the West End's Lord Farquaad, Nigel Harman.

This modern fairy tale sees loner Shrek invaded in his swamp by a bunch of fairy tale characters who have been ejected from the town of Duloc by its diminutive ruler, Lord Farquaad. The ogre goes to Farquaad to plead their case, but in return he is asked to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from the castle guarded by a dragon as he wishes to marry her but is too scared to go himself.

We then have a bit of a buddy road movie story, as Shrek, Fiona and Donkey—a talking donkey—gradually erode their antagonism to one another on the way back to Duloc.

The biggest issue with Shrek the Musical is that none of the songs feels necessary to the show, and in most cases they hold up the plot or excise parts of it in order to fit in. This show as it stands does not make the case for turning it into a musical as the story in the film is so much clearer and more fun.

We get a version of the storybook opening, which works well, but then we're straight onto the fairytale characters arriving in the swamp in a very long production number that deals only with minor characters and so adds nothing to the plot.

There are other points at which the story becomes confusing unless you know it already. The dragon, a stunning puppet that is certainly one of the show's highlights, has a song which I assume is where she falls in love with Donkey but this is very unclear, and so their whole escape and the Dragon's reappearance later in the show makes little sense.

The star of the show, undoubtedly, is Faye Brookes as Princess Fiona, with a performance full of life and humour. Running a close second is Gerard Carey as a very funny Lord Farquaad, who spends the whole performance crouching so that his tiny false legs can reach the floor.

Dean Chisnall is fine as Shrek, but there isn't a great deal for the character to do to show off his talent. I'm afraid Idriss Kargbo didn't work for me at all as Donkey. It appeared that all of his comic delivery and timing had been copied mechanically from someone else, which drained it of every ounce of the humour that made it the most popular character from the film, and one of Eddie Murphy's greatest film roles.

It certainly isn't the worst of the film-to-stage adaptations, but if it isn't as good as the original then what's the point in doing it? At up to £70 per ticket plus ATG's notorious extra fees, it's an expensive family night out, especially if you have to buy the DVD to remind you of the bits of story that were missed out.

However there are plenty of fun moments, some characters the kids will enjoy seeing live if they're fans of the film and that great dragon puppet to enjoy. But I bet it will be Neil Diamond's "I'm A Believer" that you'll go out singing at the end, not any of the rather bland songs from the show.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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