When I was offered a ticket to Shrek I was skeptical about the production and unsure of whether to accept, but decided to give it a go. I expected a fun evening at the theatre but not much more - another family movie adaptation with a celebrity cast: what I got was so much more.
As much as I wish there were more new musicals in the West End, I see absolutely nothing wrong with adaptations on the condition that they are done in an innovative manner, have a strong soundtrack and with wit. Shrek fulfilled all of these aspects. There's a lot of snobbery in the theatre these days. For something I'd love to be a growing medium, it surprises me that people take such issue with there being productions in the West End that are accessible. If it gets people into the theatre I think this can only be a good thing, and they may then be more likely to see other productions. The assumption of these sorts of productions is that they will be unimaginative, and this was not the case.
The soundtrack was eclectic in style and I was left with several songs still in my head. 'Who I'd Be' stood out as a song that endeared us to Shrek while also being a song that is lovely out of context of the show with its folk sound that would please those who aren't into musicals. 'I Know It's Today' is the song that has been in my head since hearing the song on YouTube when the show came out on Broadway. I loved the girl who played Young Fiona (with multiple girls playing Young Fiona I'm unsure of who I saw). So many times children sing in the West End and they have the cute factor and a sweet but weak voice whereas in this instance she had a real vocal strength and I loved that.
The show was both cleverly and hysterically funny - a rare combination. The show is playful fun but its self-awareness of this made it more than that. Not only was it self-aware but it was also aware of its place within the West End and it played with that hilariously by referencing and sending up a multitude of other musicals including 42nd Street, Wicked, Dreamgirls, Gypsy, Rent, Les Miserables, Once Upon a Mattress and The Lion King. Let me know if you've spotted anymore!
One of the reasons I was initially reluctant to go and see Shrek was a lack of trust in its celebrity cast, though I was happily proven wrong. I couldn't quite believe it when I discovered that Amanda Holden was going to play Fiona, considering the Broadway production got the incredible Sutton Foster. I didn't expect no talent though, I knew she had been nominated for an Olivier award for her leading role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, I just wasn't sure how well she would carry the role. She actually was a brilliant Fiona and handled the eclectic musical range with ease and had an unexpected lovely twang to her voice in songs like 'I Think I Got You Beat' and an impressive belt too. Though there were times when she wouldn't quite hit the high notes needed.
As much as I enjoyed Amanda's performance I do feel like somebody with more of a musical theatre background would have performed better. I can imagine Louise Dearman who has a flawless voice while also being a brilliant comedic actress would have been the perfect Fiona, and so it frustrates me that Kimberley Walsh from Girls Aloud, with no musical theatre experience, is stepping into the role.
Nigel Lindsay was a brilliant Shrek, getting the combination between stubbornness and vulnerability perfectly. Richard Blackwood was the weak link of the show with neither comedic nor vocal ability and I was completely baffled as to why he was cast. It's not even as if he is such a big name that he would get bums on seats to keep producers happy.
The absolute star of the show for me was Ross Dawes, the understudy for Lord Farquaad. When we went into the theatre and saw Nigel Harman was off and the understudy was on, I did have a tinge of disappointment. Please note this is not because I wanted to see 'him off the telly', I don't even know who he played in Eastenders - I just knew he was a brilliant musical theatre performer and had heard the rave reviews he had got for this show. Now I can't imagine anyone playing the role better than this man did, he completely blew me away and had me laughing constantly. The diva-esque, camp characterisation was brilliant. However there would also be moments, such as in the wedding when the attention is all on Shrek and his song, and whenever I would glance at him he would crack me up. He was always completely on it, with more subtle comedic nuances playing beautifully alongside the showstopping side of the character. This is an actor I need to see more of.
While Shrek is undoubtedly a big production, I loved that the best moments came from simple stage tricks rather than being a highly technological affair. The dragon was conveyed through a brilliantly crafted puppet and dancing rats by dancers with rats for shoes behind a screen: so simple yet so brilliantly executed. The way the production shortens the actor playing Lord Farquaad by having him on his knees with prosthetic legs worked brilliantly, and the production makes the most of this silly little trick by taking it as far as it can go with a number of physically hilarious moments.
I am now desperate to see the show again, although I am sadly worried about Kimberley Walsh's being in the show. Perhaps if I do see it again I will aim to catch an understudy. It only lasted a year on Broadway but I can see it running longer here and deservedly so! A fine example of why you should not pre-judge a show for how it has come about.