When William Steig’s 1990 picture book ‘Shrek!’ was adapted for the screen in 2001, the subverted fairy tale became an ogre-whelming success. A musical version came to Broadway in 2008, which has now been made available to watch on UK Netflix for the very first time.
Centred around the story of the first Shrek film, the unsociable ogre (Brian d’Arcy James) is outraged to find his swamp taken over by fairy-tale creatures, banished there by Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber). Travelling to Duloc, Shrek agrees to rescue and deliver Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster) to the knee-high ruler to get his home back.
James’ commanding voice compliments the titular role, and he demonstrates his singing talents by making Act One finale ‘Who I’d Be’ a standout, but his Scottish accent is painfully unconvincing.
Despite being catered towards a younger audience, the inconsistent humour of this production flits regularly between the most childish forms of comedy to aspiringly edgy jokes. It’s raspberry-blowing and playing ‘punch buggy’ one minute and mark-missing throwaways about bipolarism, diabetes and transvestites the next. Cult followers of the franchise will be pleased to know that classic lines still feature, though.
Foster proves herself to be the fairest in the land as a flawless Fiona. She makes an assured entrance with ‘I Know It’s Today’ and turns jolly showtune ‘Morning Person’ into a real highlight, complete with an entertaining tap number supported by a troupe of rats.
Other than one or two hits, the soundtrack is far, far away from being outstanding; David Lindsay-Abaire’s clunky lyrics are brimming with forced rhymes (“This ass of mine is asinine”) that call for viewers to turn on the subtitles and have a dictionary handy.
Daniel Breaker’s excitable, wide-eyed performance of sidekick Donkey occasionally grates, while Christopher Sieber provides plenty of laughs as little Lord Farquaad. In his song ‘What’s Up Duloc?’, funny choreography incorporates his miniature legs as he assertively scrabbles across the stage on his knees.
Represented by a Greek chorus and a lacklustre puppet, the static Dragon was less fire-breathing monster and more confused critter. This reviewer has seen a far more impressive design in a local amdram production.
To comment on every cast member would take donkey’s years: every fairy-tale man and his dog appears, leading to slightly annoying interjections from irrelevant characters such as the Shoemaker’s Elf and Tweedledum. However, this large ensemble allows for a vibrant rendition of ‘Freak Flag’ as well as an appreciation for Tim Hatley’s marvellous array of costumes.
Shrek the Musical is worth a watch at home, but in the stalls of a Broadway theatre, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect better. Available now on Netflix.
Reviewer: Scot Cunningham
Reviewed: 6th April 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★