WHEN York Stage Musicals successfully pitched for the rights to stage Shrek The Musical, artistic director Nik Briggs was asked one question repeatedly.

“Are you going to play Shrek?” Well, Nik, are you? Given that you are tall, comfortably well built and you fill a room with your personality and your singing voice.

“After the Broadway production started, a website was set up called something like icouldbeshrek.com, and this friend of mine said, ‘You should apply’,” he says.

“Anyway, when we secured the rights, I’d been directing for five years, and not performed in any shows during that time apart from a few concerts, but people kept asking, ‘Are you going to play Shrek?’. But I knew I’d need to find another director, rather than me doing both roles.”

Nik duly contacted Yorkshire-born Damien Poole, who had moved up to Boston Spa after ten years working in London. “He graduated from ArtsEd at the same time I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, and as one of my friends was at Arts Ed, I saw a lot of final-year shows there and Damien kept popping up in them!

“He’s since had a fantastic career as a dance captain and performer, including being the puppet master in Shrek The Musical in the West End,” he says.

“So I sent him an email saying basically, ‘Hello, we’ve not met, but we have mutual friends and I saw you in lots of ArtsEd shows’. Can we meet up to discuss directing Shrek?’.”

Meeting in Boston Spa, Nik was struck by Damien’s warm personality and passion for musicals. “I took a punt with him and he’s just been amazing to work with; the atmosphere he’s created in the rehearsal room has been first class,” he says. “I’ve been able to sit back and see what fantastic work he’s done as director and choreographer with the creative team, creating another stunning show as we try to raise the bar even higher for musical theatre in York.”

“Sitting back” is not exactly what Nik has been doing in rehearsals, now that he is indeed playing the lead role in York Stage Musicals’ biggest show to date: the York premiere of Shrek The Musical at the Grand Opera House from tonight (September 12) to September 21.

“It was exciting knowing I’d be playing Shrek after we cast the show at Easter time, but as we came closer to starting rehearsals in the summer, I could feel a knot forming as people would ask me about it,” says Nik.

“So while I was excited, I would feel physically sick, thinking, ‘oh, god, have I still got it?’.”

Good news: yes, he has! “I’m loving it!” he says.

Based on the story and characters from the first DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek The Musical turns the world of fairy-tales upside down in an all-singing, all-dancing musical comedy, wherein green monster Shrek and his loyal steed Donkey set off on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from her tower, guarded by a fire breathing love-sick dragon.

Nik is delighted with Damien’s casting choices for the 30-strong cast. “Jacqueline Bell, who’s from Harrogate, is a wonderful Princess Fiona. She was one of the divas in our production of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, and she’s a brilliant actress with a huge voice, who, like me, worked professionally in London and then came back north.

“We have Chris Knight, from Huddersfield, as Donkey. He was last seen on a York stage in 2017 as Lonny the narrator in Rock Of Ages and he’s hilarious in his sassy new role.

“Joe Wawrzyniak is back in baddie mode again after his roles in Sister Act and Ghost, this time taking to his knees as the evil and vertically challenged Lord Farquaad, while vocal powerhouse Emily Ramsden will provide the voice of our amazing 12ft dragon – and we’re still open to suggestions for the dragon’s names. She sings like Aretha Franklin and flies like Superman, and it’s a real wow moment in the show when the dragon enters.”

Stephen Hackshaw, from Leeds, who has worked with Nik for 13 years, will be musical director once more. “He’s pushed and pushed the budget to get a 15-piece orchestra for the show’s fully orchestrated version, which means we can go the extra mile in a way that tours can’t do any more,” says Nik.

High production values are guaranteed too from set designers UK Productions, from Shrewsbury, and costume hire company Charades, from St Helens.

After previously securing permission to stage Sister Act, Hairspray, Legally Blonde and 9 To 5 from the same rights holders, Nik is thrilled to be adding Shrek’s York premiere to that list. “We’ve jumped at the chance to do this one,” says Nik.

“People love it because it’s the fairy-tale of the underdog, where Shrek is the guy who usually never gets the princess, but this time the story does focus on Shrek and all the fairy-tale misfits, even 12 dancing rats with tap shoes, as - spoiler alert –Shrek gets his happy ending.”

York Stage Musicals present Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, tonight (September 12) to September 21. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/York

Charles Hutchinson