Shrek the Musical
Shrek the Musical has a number of things going for it. First, it’s a celebration of otherness, diversity and, ultimately inclusion so it’s very “now”. Second, it has a big cast with lots of ensemble roles and scope for talent so it’s ideal for a company such as West Wickam Operatic Society which has members of all ages. Third, it’s witty: “This plastic horse is reversing” and “When you are grotesque, Life is Kafkaesque.” Fourth, because, like so many musicals these days, it’s based on a film it’s very familiar and that brings audiences in. Fifth, it’s family friendly which also helps with audience potential.
And this particular production succeeds partly because almost every principal has drama school training and/or professional experience and it shows. Kemal Ibrahim’s Donkey, for example, is fluid, funny and convincing. He really inhabits the role and oozes stage presence because he really knows what he’s doing. Joanne Frazer excels as Princess Fiona who has to be rescued from her tower. Her singing is perfectly controlled and she’s a fine actor, Andy More is a show stealer as Lord Farquaad. Many of the audience had clearly never before seen the kneeling with false tiny legs trick to create a half-size man and More, who is very nifty at it, gets lots of laughs. He too sings well and his diction is impeccable.
Jamie Fillery finds the right level of decency, irritation, sadness and eventually pangs of love in the titular ogre and his work with others is delightful. Yes, there’s a lot of talent in this show, well directed by Kevin Gauntlett and choreographed by Danielle Dowsett. The tap-dancing rats are a high spot as is Lord Farquaad’s entourage.
Jane Werry’s 11-piece band is tucked away out of sight stage right. It took them a little while to settle at the performance I saw but by the second half they were doing a grand job.
There is, however, a problem with diction and clarity in this production. Because this is an American show and the big cast of story characters mostly derive from Disney & Dreamworks rather than the brothers Grimm, Hans Andersen et al it is perceived as necessary to voice everyone apart from Shrek with American accents. In too many cases this results in shrill inaudibility and very few can sing in their accents, although some, such as Kemal Ibrahim are totally on top of it. I see no reason why they couldn’t use British accents as Hallam Tondeur does for the Pied Piper. It’s a difficult issue for a non-pro company which doesn’t usually have the luxury of voice coaches but in this case there was an obvious, simple solution.
Nonetheless this didn’t dent my pleasure much and it certainly wasn’t bothering the people around me who, by the time we got to I’m a Believer at the curtain call were well psyched up to party mood.
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/shrek-the-musical-8/