Friday, 27 November 2015

Shrek: The Musical

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: November 26 2015
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

The latest big-budget production to hit the Liverpool Empire stage, in this case produced by Dreamworks, Shrek: The Musical tells the story of Shrek (played by Dean Chisnall), a large ogre, a friendly ogre, but one whose visual appearance and intimidating size makes him horrifying to many who encounter him. Having been abandoned at the age of seven, and eventually finding his home in a swamp, one day he was startled to learn that his home had been taken over by a group of fairy-tale characters, including Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man (who is presented on a board), the Three Bears and the Three Little Pigs, by orders of Lord Farquaad (Gerard Casey). As Shrek makes it a personal mission to meet Farquaad and reclaim his home, along the way he meets Donkey (Idriss Kargbo), who despite his overly-excitable nature and occasional annoying behaviour, becomes a true friend to Shrek, and joins him for the journey.

When they meet Farquaad, though, they are informed that to get back his home, Shrek must complete a separate quest; that being, to rescue Princess Fiona (Bronté Barbé) from being trapped in a castle by a dragon. As Shrek makes his way to the castle, Donkey is held captive by the dragon, and we see Fiona grow up as she wishes to one day be rescued by her Prince Charming. When the moment finally comes, though, her joy at being set free is offset by her dismay from her rescuer being the big ogre that is Shrek. In the meantime, Donkey is saved from the dragon, although there appears to be something of a bond formed which has relevance later in the story.

The mission is twofold: Shrek is to bring Fiona to Farquaad so that they can get married, and by doing so Shrek would be entitled to then reclaim his home. But there are bumps in the road: Shrek starts to develop feelings towards Fiona, magnifying his disappointment when Fiona cannot look past his physical appearance; and we soon discover that Fiona has a secret, one which only becomes clear at night, and one which Donkey accidentally stumbles upon. Such a secret would affect Fiona's future with Farquaat, but also her relationship with Shrek, as he mishears her explanation and eventually has a falling out with both Fiona and Donkey, especially when she gleefully goes off with Farquaad upon their meeting. Shrek's disappointment gets worse when it appears that, despite fulfilling his mission, he may not actually get back his home after all.

So, there are several questions heading into the conclusion: can Shrek reclaim his home? If he does, what will happen to the fairy-tale characters? Will he and Donkey ever be friends again? And how will Fiona's secret affect a potential marriage with Farquaad, or could Shrek have second thoughts and find a way to be with Fiona after all?

The ending does a good job of tying everything together, at times in an over-the-top manner, but it is perfectly suitable for a show of this nature. After all, this is based on the very successful children's movie franchise of the same name, so it is clear that much of the content is geared towards kids. From the colourful characters to the light-hearted songs and storylines, to the deliberately ludicrous dance moves, coupled with the likelihood of a happy ending, it is a show which should definitely keep kids entertained and excited.

At the same time, it appeals to adults because a lot of humour can be found here. The standout character when it comes to making the audience laugh is Lord Farquaad, who has a diminutive appearance; but rather than using a smaller actor to play the role, we get a situation whereby Carey appears to be bent down, meaning that Farquaad's legs move in a way that is unnatural yet silly, so that almost every time he walks or runs, it gets a laugh from the crowd. It also means that his dance routines are amongst the highlights of the show; if it were another character of regular size, the scenes wouldn't have the same impact, because it is the unusual ways in which Farquaad moves his legs in line with the music that make the moments funny. There are other funny moments, including a scene with the Pied Piper (Will Jennings) and a group of people who are dancing behind a curtain, but whose footwear makes it look like a group of rats are dancing to his tune.

Elsewhere, the sets are spectacular, with the large-scale forest settings, the huge book serving as a door at the beginning, the well-designed castle and church backgrounds, and the bright, colourful lighting and eye-catching visual effects. The costumes are also good for the main characters and suitably exaggerated for others, although some of the fairytale characters (in particular the pigs) could have been made a little clearer and closer to what people would expect them to look like. Even better, though, is the huge dragon creature, held up by some background puppeteers, and whose appearance and actions are stunning to watch; this, to me, was the most impressive part of the show, because it's clear that a lot of work went into its design and its actions during scenes. The use of fairy-tale characters was a good twist, and raised a laugh when it was revealed that the miniature Lord's father was actually one of the seven Dwarves.

The musical numbers were well-performed on the whole, although they will be most familiar to those who have previously seen the Shrek films; I'm A Believer at the very end would be the only recognisable tune to those who have never seen Shrek before. That being said, they are mostly enjoyable, with the performance of I Know It's Today by three versions of Fiona being the musical highlight of the show. The main roles are performed well too; due to the child-friendly nature of the show, the performances of actors and actresses would be less significant than in other shows (since the younger fans are watching for the story and the comedy), but Chisnall, Barbé, Carey and Kargbo all do a good job, with Carey's portrayal of Farquaad being the best, due to his always-ridiculous appearance and his deliberately silly tone of voice when delivering certain lines.

So, overall, Shrek can be considered a success. It isn't a show that will blow you away from a performance standpoint, but it is a show which will keep you entertained throughout, one which has a good amount of funny moments (particularly in the second half), and which provides some very impressive settings and special effects. If you have children aged from 5-11, chances are that they will love Shrek: The Musical.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

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