It’s a big bright beautiful day in York when the cast of Shrek The Musical take to the stage!
There is no denying the success of Shrek; an empire that started as a box-office smash, and now we have sequels, spin-offs, London attractions, and of course the musical – which is bringing crowds to the Grand Opera House York this week.
Shrek The Musical is at the Grand Opera House from Monday 27 November to Saturday 2 December.
The show first opened on Broadway back in 2008, and this new UK tour is definitely a fresh take on the musical. There were many noted changes to the script, staging and set design – however these weren‘t always welcome.
For those watching for the first time, this musical succeeds at bringing feel-good energy, catchy numbers and laugh out loud childish humour. However, if you have been lucky enough to see this production previously, you may feel slightly disheartened by missing jokes, changes to the script and memorable set pieces missing throughout. Nevertheless, this does not fault the overall talent that graced the stage; the cast were above all else phenomenal.
We all know that Ogre’s do indeed have layers, and there were many layers to Antony Lawrence’s fantastic portrayal as the title role: first we were met with a thick familiar Scottish accent as he emerged from his swamp, then stunning vocals awaited us with the powerful performance of ‘Who I’ll Be’ – and of course his comedic delivery did not go amiss.
This comedy was particularly golden when onstage alongside his trusty steed Brandon Lee Sears who took on the iconic character of Donkey; he was the right balance of unhinged and irritating, which is definitely a compliment for a role such as his.
Completing the principle trio was ex-Strictly star Joanne Clifton as Princess Fiona. As bubbly as a person could be, I truly believed she had had six coffees, as was noted during her tap-centred routine ‘Morning Person’ which opened act two.
Whilst her performance was one dimensional at times, she did offer, alongside Lawrence, the best performance of ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ I have ever seen – which is always a crowd pleaser.
The character of Lord Farquaad is one that, despite his evil persona, you can’t help but secretly love him and his brutal honesty throughout. However, this year sees a big change to the character’s performance, and as a result his height – which is usually the root of his and other characters’ jokes. This alteration resulted in a lot of the references, kept from the original script, being lost and the plot effected as a result. This didn’t stop a warm reception for James Gillan taking on this villain, but it did leave long-term fans questioning why and failing to see the benefits for the audience.
For me the stars of the show, which is often the case, was the ensemble, who held a ridiculous amount of talent. It was quick change galore as they appeared in nearly every scene and musical number, and sporting an abundance of extravagant costumes designed by Philip Witcomb. And credit must go to the wigs, hair and makeup touring production team, led by Ashley McIntosh. I was thoroughly impressed with the addition of makeup changes inline with the ensemble’s many characters – a touch that didn’t go unnoticed and helped bring an uniqueness to the cast.
The stand out vocals of the evening did not come from the principle cast – these were from Cherece Richards, who stunned audiences with her powerful portrayal as the soulful Dragon and Georgie Buckland as Elf/Gingy, who took my breath away with her flawless runs and pitch perfect whistle tones. The pair deserved a standing ovation of their own.
And whilst there was a high calibre of talent, I feel what lacked in this particular tour was the creative changes, especially when it came to the set. Heavily relying on projections where previously intricate set pieces were utilised – and whilst I can appreciate this update may make this tour of Shrek more accessible to smaller stages – it made many of the scenes feel amateur. In fact, I feel lucky to have seen this musical multiple times, with both professional and amateur productions and I feel the staging and transitions were weakest in this tour.
However, regardless of the practicalities and comparisons that can easily be made, at the heart of this show is family fun and magic, something everyone needs as the festive season draws closer. You won’t be able to stop yourself singing along to the famed ‘I’m a Believer’ as the show draws to a close, or leave without a pep in your step after a feel-good evening at the theatre.
Don’t miss out on a Shrektacular experience this week, showing at Grand Opera House York until Saturday 2 December. Tickets start from £15 and are available here.