Shrek-the-Musical at Bristol Hippodrome

THIS production is a first-class example  a pre-packed sure fire hit, a triumph of the PR team’s art.

DreamWorks, which owns the Shrek franchise, knows a good thing when they see one (with four films already released, and a fifth in the pipeline), since the initial showing in 2001, as well as TV series and  specials and this stage version, which has played to packed houses all over the world since first appearing ten years ago.

A great deal of money has been cleverly thrown at the production with wonderful lighting and video effects, colourful costumes and a full-size fire breathing Dragon, visually it is a joy. If the score was up to the same mark this show might well be something very special indeed, but it is at least a couple of numbers short of being memorable.

The story of Shrek, the big sad lonely Ogre, who, accompanied by a talking Donkey, rescues the Princess Fiona from the clutches of the dastardly vertically- challenged villain, Lord Farquaad, en-route meeting a whole clutch of well known fairytale characters and falling in love with the princess, is nearer to pantomime than musical theatre. The big difference being the spectaculary staged production numbers in which the fairytale characters demonstrate their skills as a song and dance ensemble.

Michael Carolan stood in for the indisposed Steffan Harri as Shrek on the evening I attended, and although short on physical power, I don’t think even the more nervous amongst the younger members of the audience would have been frightened by this lovable character. He did show the loneliness that any outsider in society has to suffer.

There was no shortage of power in Amelia Lily’s portrayal of Princess Fiona. Whether it was swapping comic insults with Shrek  or showing her determination to be free at all cost of this long-time imprisonment, this was a very independent lady. Like virtually all leading ladies in modern musicals, her vocals were arranged so that she had to deliver them in a high nasal tone, which was a pity because as she showed in the gentler moments with Shrek there was a much wider tone to her range than the one we heard.
Among so many outstanding costumes, the one given to Marcus Ayton to play the Donkey was a disappointment. Or was it the way in which he and the choreographer made use of it? Either way, a great deal of the verbal humour also missed its mark. This Donkey only produced a limited number of laughs compared to the iconic ass voiced by Eddie Murphy in the film.

All the principals found themselves up-staged in the laughter stakes by Samuel Holmes, who, skillfully manipulating his “short legs”, never missed a comedy trick as the eminently hissable Lord Farquaad.

Artistically this show his little to offer, but having identified the audience they were playing to and delivering exactly what had been promised as a piece of entertainment this is a top class production which will continue to be enjoyed by many thousands of people, young and old, for many years to come.


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