Review: Shrek The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, until August 17

Shrek the Musical

Shrek the Musical

First published in Theatre
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COULD 2014 have gone any better for Yorkshire? Le Grand Depart; the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Alan Bennett season; even Hull City in Europe.

And there’s more: confirmation of York Theatre Royal’s £4.1 million redevelopment; Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s award as the museum of the year; and our county cricket team atop the championship.

Leeds Grand Theatre is playing its part too, pulling off a coup by becoming the first regional theatre to present the DreamWorks’ Theatricals production of Shrek The Musical. If you saw it in Drury Lane, it looks even better in West Yorkshire than in the West End.

You will know the story and characters from the first DreamWorks animated Shrek film, but the book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and perky music by Jeanine Tesori are new, apart from the singalong finale of I’m A Believer, The Monkees’ hit now attributed on the drumkit to The Donkees.

Plenty of such humour permeates through a bright and bouncy show full of cultural references, in particular some mickey-taking of other musicals, from The Lion King to Les Miserables, in a continuation of the original Shrek sending up and redefining the fairytale pecking order established by Grimm and Disney.

The humour is savvy too, sometimes pantomimic for children, other times adult, such as the warning that if you look grotesque, your life is "Kafka-esque”.

Where the musical differs from the movie is in the upsurge of camp. We Brits love it, from pantomime to Carry On, Little Britain to Mrs Brown, and Shrek The Musical shamelessly out-camps even Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Tutti-frutti, it’s totally fruity, especially Gerard Carey’s vainglorious, diminutive Lord Farquaad, who is part Laurence Olivier’s Richard III, part Rik Mayall in regal fop mode.

Coincidence or not, Idriss Kargbo’s Donkey has a look of Little Richard as he struts his stuff, head held high. Donkey is as excitable as when Eddie Murphy voiced him, but he is a better mover now, a hoofer with hooves.

Leading the show, as he did in the West End, is Dean Chisnall’s Shrek, the big, green, not-so-jolly ogre that requires two hours of make-up before each show (which could make anyone grumpy).

If anything, Shrek is ruder, certainly windier, than his film self, and the big Scottish fella is as irascible and no-nonsense as ever as he sets out with Donkey to rescue the temperamental, maybe bipolar Princess Fiona (Faye Brookes) from her tower, guarded by a love-sick dragon.

Chisnall makes him a lovable lump, a warts-and-all unconventional hero, while Brookes, cast as an American as she was in Legally Blonde, again excels as a character discovering the real her as the story progresses.

Add myriad rebellious fairytale characters, such as Gingy the biscuit, and spectacular set and costume designs by Tim Hatley, and Nigel Harman’s touring production is a monster hit.

Shrek The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, until August 17, 7pm plus 2.30pm, Thursdays and Saturdays, and 3pm, Sundays. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or leedsgrandtheatre.com

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