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Shrek the Musical

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Shrek the Musical is the latest in a line of large-scale West End productions The Lion King and Wicked are others to tour the UK and Ireland, and on the evidence of this opening in Leeds, it has a pretty good chance of equalling the success of those shows that have preceded it.

The staging owes much to the 2011 Theatre Royal Drury Lane production, but London’s original Lord Farquaad, Nigel Harman – who won an Olivier award for his performance – has stepped in to take a fresh look for this touring version.

The result is a fast-paced, tightly directed romp that exaggerates the farcical elements of the alternative fairy tale, but doesn’t undermine the sweetness of its message that what makes us special makes us strong.

David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori’s score isn’t the strongest in the world, and yet it constantly delivers, boosted by Harman’s attention to detail and Josh Prince’s clever choreography. The updates mention of William and Kate’s castle, for example and musical theatre in-jokes are fun to spot too, with Lord Farquaad’s nod to Wicked’s Defying Gravity a favourite.

Brilliantly embodying both the fun and charm of the piece is Dean Chisnall in the title role, appearing just as at home burping and farting as he does delivering a tender reprise of Big Bright Beautiful World.

It may be the tour’s early stages, but there is already a convincing chemistry between Chisnall’s Shrek and Faye Brookes’ Princess Fiona. Brookes adds a quirky feistiness to the part and proves her worth in the song and dance departments too. She also impresses when coolly dealing with a costume malfunction at the top of Act II.

Gerard Carey is nothing less than excellent as the vertically challenged Farquaad, who delivers his big numbers with aplomb and relishes every second of silly campery.

It was only five years ago that Idriss Kargbo, who plays Donkey, won a Stage/Sylvia Young scholarship when he was 13 years old. The maturity of his performance is therefore particularly impressive, and though he seemed a tad tentative at the beginning of press night, his growing confidence was evident as he strut his stuff in numbers such as Make a Move.

Within a fine ensemble of actors playing a multitude of roles, Nikki Bentley, Candace Furbert and Will Haswell also stand out.

Thanks to Tim Hatley’s vibrant set, dragon and costume design, accompanied by Hugh Vanstone and Matt Daw’s lighting, fans of the Shrek movies will not be disappointed. In fact, there is plenty to satisfy both young and old, not least some of the bawdy humour that, one hopes, will go over the little ones’ heads.

Verdict: Big, bold and brassy touring version of the DreamWorks favourite is likely to please all ages.

Lisa Martland

  • Grand Theatre, Leeds
  • July 23-August 17, PN July 30, then touring until September 2015
  • Authors: David Lindsay-Abaire book/lyrics, Jeanine Tesori music, based on the DreamWorks movie and the book by William Steig
  • Director: Nigel Harman original London production directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford
  • Design: Tim Hatley set and costumes, Hugh Vanstone and Matt Daw lighting, Autograph sound
  • Musical director: Dave Rose
  • Choreographer: Josh Prince
  • Technical: Alan Williams music supervisor, David Grindrod casting, Richard Bullimore production management, Neil White company manager, Jen Raith stage manager, Ollie Wade head of sound, Jayne Anderson head of wardrobe, David Brian-Brown hair and wig design, Helen Williamson head of wigs, Naomi Donne make-up design, Craig Forrest head of make-up
  • Cast includes: Dean Chisnall, Faye Brookes, Gerard Carey, Idriss Kargbo, Nikki Bentley, Candace Furbert, Will Haswell
  • Producer: DreamWorks Theatricals, Neal Street Productions, Playful Productions, Lee Menzies, Ron Kastner, Tulchin/Bartner Productions, Saracen Films, Mark Cartwright, Gavin Kalin, Glass Half Full Productions/Just For Laughs Theatricals
  • Running time: 2hrs 25mins
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