BWW REVIEW: Courage, Friendship And Acceptance Shine As SHREK THE MUSICAL Opens In Sydney
Sunday 5th January 2020, 6pm, Sydney Lyric Theatre
Jeanine Tesori (Music) and David Lindsay-Abaire's (Book and Lyrics) SHREK THE MUSICAL opened in Sydney to the delight of the summer holiday audience. Drawing on Dreamworks Animation's popular motion picture franchise which was originally based on William Steig's children's picture book, this part musical, part pantomime is a heartwarming comic tale of friendship, courage and acceptance.
While many adults would be familiar with the contemporary fairytale, SHREK THE MUSICAL may be the first introduction to the swamp and Kingdom of Duloc for its younger target audience given the original movie premiered in 2001 and the fourth film released in 2010. The large green Ogre, Shrek (Ben Mingay) goes on a quest to Duloc to confront the nasty Lord Farquaad (Todd McKenney) when the displaced Fairytale Creatures disturb the peace and quiet of his isolated swamp. With the unlikely travel companion of a talkative and overenthusiastic Donkey (Nat Jobe) who wont take no for an answer by his side, he lands himself with a deal to retrieving Princess Fiona (Lucy Durack) from a Dragon (voiced by Marcia Hines) guarded tower for the deluded Farquaad in exchange for the promise of getting the mythical misfits out of his swamp.
While SHREK THE MUSICAL first opened on Broadway in 2008, this production is a remake of the 2011 West End reworking directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, with Luke Joslin and Jenny Sawyer taking on the positions of Resident Director and Associate Director for the Australian production. Tim Hatley's set design, utilizes more traditional theatrical stylings with painted flat scenery which helps to add to remind the audience that this is a fanciful fairytale and never meant to be anything more. The use of a curtain on visible rings and wire presents an amusingly simple expression of passing the countryside for the Travel Song and Duncan McLean's projected scenes onto a storybook page ensures the audience understand that this is a fairytale with a three-dimensional twist. Refreshingly the use of projections allows for greater detail whilst being less obtrusive than the tiresome trend of LED screens that other contemporary productions have employed. Hugh Vanstone's lighting design maintains a brighter aesthetic to the production, opting not to drop the Swamp into the gloom one would have expected and continually reinforcing that this is not supposed to be in any way an exercise in realism.
Hatley's costume design is bold, bright and colorful, playing on the source material's animated origins. Todd McKenney manages the diminutive character's costume well as he manipulates the stuffed legs and oversized cape. The Fairytale Creatures are presented with enough recognizable elements whilst steering clear of Disney expressions. The puppet design for the giant purple Dragon is however the standout design element of the evening as the eyelash-batting oversized beautiful beast flies around the stage after the skittish Donkey with the aid of 4 puppeteers.
While Lindsay-Abaire's book, which draws much of its dialogue from the well-known movie, has clever references for the adults in the audience, the comedy of the work doesn't always land as neatly as one would expect. For opening night it felt as if the majority of the cast were holding back and not giving the full camp over the top experience one would expect from such a piece of fantasy fairytale. Mingay gives a more disinterested than disgruntled Ogre whilst Jobe, who delivered a deliciously camp Donkey for Packemin in 2018 feels like he is holding back. The perennially delightful Durack does her best to ramp up the energy with her wickedly fabulous expression of the frustrated princess but it is Todd McKenny who delivers the best performance of the evening. McKenney taps in to the Pantomine absurdity of the story with his over the top expression of the egotistical Lord as he deftly dances on his knees, manipulates the miniature legs and infuses a liberal dose of inuendo into his expression of the randy want-to-be-royal.
These quibbles aside, SHREK THE MUSICAL is an easy piece of fun escapism that will keep the children entertained whilst also being engaging for adults. It holds important messages of acceptance of others and oneself in an age when world leaders are regularly trying to divide people. It considers the courage that people can muster if something important is at stake and it reminds people of the power of friendship and the need to look past the façade and give people a chance.