Shrek The Musical

Shrek The Musical
Based on the DreamWorks Animation Motion Picture and the book by William Steig. Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Music by Jeanine Tesori. John Frost and Glass Half Full Productions. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. February 16 – April 26, 2020.

In a world of uncertainty and negativity, we all need to embrace our inner child and reinforce that magic still exists. And it does - in life (though we don’t see it often enough) and certainly in theatre, as Shrek The Musical proves. The sheer joy of this show cannot be Ogre-estimated.

David Lindsay-Abaire (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Testori (music), with Jason Moore and Rob Ashford (the show’s UK Directors) have stayed true to the vision we all fell in love with in the feature film, but have turned the heat up a notch on the themes of alienation and acceptance, and the triumph of good and innocence over selfishness and evil. It’s a morality play wrapped in a musical dressed as bloody great entertainment for anyone aged 5-95. It helps to see the show alongside children (you won’t feel so self-conscious about cheering and booing and laughing at the fart-off in “I Think I got You Beat”) so, if you don’t have kids or grandkids…borrow someone else’s.

Sure, it has a few bumps in the storytelling, and it verges on being both OTT and self-indulgent in places (referencing many other Broadway Musicals and films), but that’s all part of the overall charm. And who wouldn’t love a show where the villain’s horse is called ScoMo?

But it’s the brilliance of the Australian cast that makes this the happiest show in town.

Ben Mingay is perfect casting as Shrek, who is green around the edges in more than just colour. He shambles around the stage endearingly and manages to overcome the restrictions in expression that the make-up forces upon him; and when he sings, WOW, magic happens. For those who only know Mingay from his TV and film roles, be prepared for the glorious tones of one of the best voices in the business.

Lucy Durack is transformed as Princess Fiona – and proves her versatility yet again. Is there anything this fabulously talented leading lady can’t do? She’s a great comic talent with impeccable timing; she taps with rats (helping the Pied Piper) sings both happily and wistfully, is raunchy and even crude (should a princess win a fart-off with an ogre?) and even brings tears to our eyes when she recognises her one true love. I don’t think I have ever seen a bad performance by Durack, and this is right up there with the best of them. She lights up a stage just by being on it, and her “Morning Person” is perhaps the most singable song in the entire show.

There’s not a lot one can say about Todd McKenney that hasn’t been said by others. He is such a talented performer with the ability to manipulate an audience and own them within moments of taking stage. He relishes playing the entire role of the villainous Lord Farquaad on his knees (I’m in pain just thinking about it) and though his stature may be diminutive this time round, his performance certainly isn’t. He remains as charismatic – and deliciously OTT - as ever.

Rounding out the four leads is Nat Jobe as Donkey. Hampered by the expectations by some of an Eddie Murphy impersonation, Jobe makes the role his own while still satisfying the Murphy fans. His frenetic pace in everything seems sometimes to battle the general pace of the show, but that’s always been the case with the Donkey character, and Jobe’s delicious rendition of “Make a Move” with the Three Blind Mice is a highlight of Act Two. With Marcia Hines on a break, The Dragon (an impressive puppet expertly handled by some of the ensemble) was voiced by the fabulous Denise Devlin, who also plays Mama Bear. It’s to her credit (and her great vocals) that, with no announcement made, most of the audience thought they were listening to Marcia in peak form. What a great vocalist Denise is. Added to this is an astonishing ensemble (playing various fairy tale characters) that includes remarkable award-winning performers in their own right. Caleb Vines is an endearing Pinocchio, and he’s joined by the likes of Tom Sharah, Joshua Robson, Annie Chiswell, Ross Chisari and Rubin Matters. In fact, there isn’t a weak link anywhere and Dave Skelton and the band are equally as impressive.

Tim Hatley is responsible for costumes, set and puppet design, all of which are stunning, and Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is exemplary.

Shrek is exhilarating and exhausting, just as musical theatre is supposed to be. It may not be easy being green – but it’s worth every moment.

Coral Drouyn

Photographer: Brian Geach

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