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A CurtainUp London London Review
Shrek the Musical

Sure I'm fated to be lonely and I'm destined to be hated. If you read the books they say that's why I was created. But I don't care 'cause being liked is grossly overrated. — shrek from "Big Bright Beautiful World"
Shrek the Musical
Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona, Richard Blackwwod as the Donkey and Nigel Lindsay as Shrek (Photo: Brinkhoff Mõgenburg)
Broadway musicals normally take a little while to cross the Atlantic but the early closure of Shrek the musical after just over a year in New York means that London has gained a big, expensive Broadway production with most of the production costs footed in the United States. The film was very popular here with its brand of wit and allusions to other films. These allusions have been replaced by some to the London musical scene, with a flag waving scene featuring the drawing of Cosette from Les Miserables and on a journey the giraffe and antelope wheel revolving to strains from The Lion King.

Recast in London, the British stars have stepped into the parts with ease. Maybe the best known for her work as a panellist on Britain's Got Talent Amanda Holden plays Princess Fiona but she is no stranger to musical theatre having played Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie in the West End. She can sing and dance and act! I surprisingly haven't seen Nigel Lindsay sing before but he has considerable acting prowess and he plays Shrek with the Scottish voice that Mike Myers gave the ogre in the movie. Comedian Richard Blackwood has the charming personality of the donkey with plenty of comic moments especially with his being the love interest for the gorgeous pink dragon.

Shrek the Musical
Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad
(Photo: Brinkhoff Mõgenburg)
But the star for me is Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad, the diminutive product of Snow White and the most bad tempered of her seven dwarves, Grumpy. There are many Disney inspired jokes in this rival Dreamworks production. Nigel Harman spends most of the show on his knees but covered by a black cloth and with a pair of artificial yellow booted legs making him appear to be about 3 feet six inches tall. Harman seethes with ambition and ruthlessness and he is the villain we love to hate. The legs of course are always interesting to watch but the highlight was when he was called upon to go on bended knee to propose marriage to the princess. Bearing in mind that he is already on his knees this is quite a feat as he leans over and pulls at one shoe to simulate going down on one knee. It is all very good humoured and delightfully funny.

We loved the big, bold design from the soldiers in grey armour looking more 2D than 3D and the pages in plastic, primary coloured costume at Farquaad's Castle the anagram of cloud Duloc, but the entrance of the stage filling, flying pink dragon worked by several puppeteers took our breath away. Coupled with this amazing spectacle is the tremendous voice of Landi Oshinowo in Forever one of the best rock numbers in the show. It is the design which impresses, the detail on the Nursery Rhyme characters stepping out of giant books like the display in Disneyworld and nice touches like the animated Gingerbread Man (Alice Fearn) complete on baking sheet. The sets too are magnificent in a completely over the top way.

Of course no one could resist making the connection between the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the rhyme about the Muffin Man who lives on Drury Lane but there are also topical British references to the Prince William and Kate wedding and David Beckham. Adults can pick up on Princess Fiona describing herself as bi-polar. The young versions of both the princess and Shrek are very cute, both isolated and ostracized and later, as grown ups, they get to compare unhappy childhoods in the song "I Think I Got You Beat". Jokes about Farquaad's lack of stature abound (apparently Snow White married way beneath her!) and Shrek and Fiona make the children laugh with their body popping, cardboard ripping noises. Farquaad's white steed is a wooden horse on wheels and makes that vehicle reversing noise when it backs off stage. Nigel Harman camps it up at every opportunity so that I was quite sorry to see him defeated. As he walks on his knees he seems to be rocking from side to side and taking small steps.

The music, while pleasant enough, I didn't find memorable at first hearing and the lyrics are ok if not sparklingly intelligent but I could hear all the words. In dance terms when Fiona teaches the Pied Piper about rat pest control, the curtain is lowered so that rats can dance on the shoes of the dancers and we can only see their feet. It's clever and witty and they morph into rat dancers in top hats and tails in "Morning Person".

I think the London run of Shrek the Musicalmay well outlast New York as a genuinely funny musical for all the family.

For the review of Shrek the Musical in New York and the song list go here.

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Shrek the Musical
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Jason Moore and Ron Ashford

Starring: Nigel Lindsay, Richard Blackwood, Nigel Harman, Amanda Holden
With: Delroy Atkinson, Amy Beadel, Dean Chisnall, Jon-Scott Clark, Ste Clough, Ross Dawes, Lucie Downer, Alice Fearn, Michelle Francis, Ashley E Hale, Bradley Jaden, Aaron Lee Lambert, Emma Lindars, Landi Osinowo, Damien Poole, Stuart Matthew Price, Jonathan Stewart, Lucy Tapp, Karli Vale, Samantha Allison, Chlorene Biron-Monnier, Laureen Dawes, Madeleine Hill, Emilia Jones, Sophie Wythe, Grace Maltman, Megan Manly
Scenic & Costume Design: Tim Hatley
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Hair/Wig Design: David Brian-Brown
Make-Up Design: Naomi Donne
Puppet Design: Tim Hatley
Orchestrations: Danny Troob
Musical Direction: Alan Williams
Choreography: Josh Prince
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 412 2955
Booking to 19th February 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th June 2011 performance at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JF (Tube: Covent Garden)

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