Shrek was a crowd-pleasing movie, with jokes for the kids and plenty of pop-culture references for the adults, but does the musical version cut the same mustard? David Mullane’s a believer.
Shrek The Musical is a crowd-pleasing show. Children like the colourful set and fairytale characters, their parents enjoy the multilayered (‘like an onion’) humour and innuendo, fans of the film series appreciate the faithful yet inventive adaptation of the story to the stage, musicals aficionados enjoy the, for the most part, top-notch songs and the witty references to other popular shows, and everyone loves Lord Farquaad’s little legs (to shrink to the Lord’s short stature, the actor plays the part kneeling down, with his own legs concealed and two fake, cartoonish legs in their place).
The leg trick is used continuously throughout the show but it never grows tiresome and Gerard Carey as Lord Farquaad doesn’t rely solely on his legs either. He pulls tremendously arch facial expressions as the villain of the show, in typical pantomime fashion. His long pauses and looks to the audience are perfectly timed and he squeezes every last drop of hilarity and faux drama from the script.
The creative team behind the show are an impressive lot. David Lindsay-Abaire, the lyricist and writer of the show’s book, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, famous for Rabbit Hole, both the original play and subsequent film adaptation, which was directed for the screen by John Cameron Mitchell. Jeanine Tessori, who has written the music for Shrek, has also written for, amongst others, the revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie and, curiously, the musical version of Fun Home, which is Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel autobiography, she of the Bechdel test fame. Shrek the Musical’s original London director, Jason Moore, was also the original Broadway director of Avenue Q and the hit 2012 film, Pitch Perfect.
This pedigree of talent is on display from curtain-up and musical theatre geeks will love the cheeky winks and nods to other musicals. See if you can spot the references to Les Misérables, The Lion King, Wicked and Dreamgirls. As well as these literal references, the show feels like a fun mix of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Monty Python’s Spamalot and the aforementioned Avenue Q. The score is solid and, at times, hits some home runs, especially with numbers like Princess Fiona’s “I Know It’s Today” and “I Think I Got You Beat”, which devolves into a burping and farting duet between Shrek and Fiona. And there are dance numbers! So few new musicals are written with honest-to-goodness tap routines but Shrek the Musical, as well as sending up classic musical theatre, respects and celebrates it, particularly with “Morning Person”, based on Fiona’s duet with the exploding bird from the film, and “Welcome to Duloc”, another beloved scene from the original film.
By the time the curtain comes down on the ensemble rocking out to “I’m a Believer”, even the harshest of critics will have their faith restored in the magic of musical theatre. Shrek the Musical is a straight-up, hands-down, must-see hit.
Shrek is at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre until November 9, get tickets here.
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