Since the dawn of cinema, the stage and the screen have had a two-way relationship. Whether it’s Disney fans passionately arguing that The Lion King stage show far eclipses the original film, or movies like The Producers, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hello Dolly bringing an existing theatre darling to the awareness of a much wider audience. No matter which way the process goes, there’s the potential to elevate the source material while creating something totally new, but also the possibility of retreading the same old ground, sometimes while actively worsening it.
As a pretty divisive film to begin with, Shrek The Musical has a pretty even chance of going either way. Which direction the pendulum ultimately ends up swinging in depends entirely on the production, and the elements of the show it decides to tease out. The touring production which hit The Leeds Grand this month makes a few bewildering choices along the way but, on the whole, allows the story to grow beyond a simple Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy impersonation.
Steffan Harri’s ogre was a refreshingly earnest, albeit wobbly-accented, Shrek – an onion with a heart of gold and soft gooey centre. Though he was more North Yorkshire than north of the border by the last song, he balanced killer comedic timing with some genuinely sweet moments, making even the most eye-rollingly crass jokes seem charming and endearing. Laura Main, most famous for her stint as Sister Bernadette in Call The Midwife, was a Fiona unafraid to get silly, dodging some of the most demanding song and dance parts by swapping them out for even more comedy. The change was a welcome one, with her oscillating between agonisingly practised princess mode, and an almost frat boy persona that on her felt justified, even organic.
The ensemble were as zany and individually impressive as you could ever hope for a cast to be and Lord Farquaad, this time played by a pitch-perfect Samuel Homes, was a scene-stealer whether battling a technical failure on the part of his horse, or tossing out innuendos that flew straight over the kids’ in the audience’s heads.
Some of the changes made due to tour constraints, such as the slowly ageing princesses in “I Know Its Today” being swapped out for a chorus of demonic puppets, actually enhanced the absurdity and comedy of the show for the better. Others, such as the abandoning of a few less PC jokes from the original Broadway run, were bound to happen sooner or later. Aside from a truly bizarre choice, in which a comedic moment between Shrek and Donkey was turned into a romantic acapella sequence played completely straight, most of the choices worked out well, with the decision to swap out the dragon’s song allowing for the most mind-blowingly delicious vocals of the night – courtesy of an effortlessly excellent Christina Modestou.
Overall, Shrek The Musical is a surefire hit for kids that adults won’t have any trouble sitting through, and musical theatre veterans will find hilarious due to the few extra winks thrown their way. From costuming to set design to performances, it’s a fast-paced, magical whirlwind you’re sure to enjoy -provided you don’t have an aversion to toilet humour.
Image credit: leeds-live.co.uk