A monster of a musical, yes the headline for Shrek The Musical almost writes itself and, while the producers may be hoping for a monster hit, sadly this green beast is a monster for all the wrong reasons.
Ok, so perhaps the target demographic is slightly out of my age range but it’s hard to take more than fleeting moments of enjoyment from this latest event musical.
The Shrek franchise has become one of the most successful animated films of all time and the fairytale theatricality seems a natural choice for a stage transfer. The original films provided genuine cross-generational appeal, plenty to entertain the youngsters but also providing enough humour for adults. Somewhere along the way, though, the magic and anarchic comedy has been lost. What is left is a pantomime-like confection that is bereft of the original’s substance and charm.
When the musical opened on Broadway in 2008 it was a lavish multi-dollar production full of spectacle. The West End production is based, however, on the American touring production and it’s a much simpler affair. And that is the first of the problems. For a show that cost several million pounds, it looks surprisingly cheap. Painted cloths dominate and, apart from a woefully briefly used bridge, it is strangely static and two dimensional. While shows such as Lend Me a Tenor play to their nostalgic feel, this just seems low budget.
There are a couple of redeeming design coup de’theatre, both involving a wonderful dragon. Surprise is a key element but, safe to say, they do add some much needed magic to the evening.
The second problem is Jeannine Tesori’s score. While the imported numbers provide a sense of the familiar, many of the other numbers fail to stick in the memory.
The third issue and perhaps the biggest barrier to the success of the show is the performances. While the two Nigels, Lyndsay and Harman as Shrek and diminutive Lord Farquaad, deliver strong performances, others seem weak. Amanda Holden’s Princess Fiona is played with inner steel but vocally it’s an unimpressive outing, seeming strained and thin.
Richard Blackwood’s Donkey is more problematic. The role in the stage show is little more than a shadow of the Eddie Murphy vehicle of the film, but Blackwood seems desperately uncomfortable with the role. The comedic elements seem mechanical while his vocal range is limited at best.
There are stronger performances from the ensemble. Landi Oshinowo’s duel roles as Dragon and Humpty Dumpty are sung with ferocity while Alice Fearn’s Gingy also sings up a storm.
In many ways, one suspects Shrek is critic-proof, the brand has such a strong following and the opportunity for a big scale family show is bound to draw audiences. It will be interesting to see, though, how this show sells outside of the holiday periods but it was telling that more than a few children commented on the way out of the auditorium that they found the show boring.
And you can’t get a more damning and damaging verdict than that.