Last week marked my return to a show I had last seen in its previews back in May: Shrek – The Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Considering I’m known for watching shows again and again this gives an impression of my views on this particular piece of theatre. To put it simple: I didn’t really enjoy it back then.
I guess I don’t have to go into details when it comes to the storyline. Or are there still people out there who haven’t seen the movie? Well, to be honest – I haven’t. But I tried, I honestly did (never made it past the first 20 minutes though). So, very basic storyline: Fairlytale creatures are forced into Shrek’s swamp (that’s where Ogres live) by order of Lord Farquaard. Shrek wants to get rid of them and so goes on a journey to ask Lord Farquaard to allow the fairytale creatures to leave the swamp. On the way he meets Donkey. Farquaard sends Shrek out to rescure the fair Princess Fiona from the dragon. Shrek and Donkey succeed in their task. Shrek falls in love with Fiona who is under a terrible curse which makes her turn into an Ogre at night. Only a kiss from her true love will return her to her “love’s true form”. Lord Farquaard intends to marry Fiona but of course there’s the big happy ending and so on, and so on.
Now imagine all of this on a stage with songs and dance. It’s a pretty colourful experience and some of the songs are catchy and stay in your head (most of all the song used in the finale “I’m a believer” which is, as some may know, a cover – the original was composed by Neil Diamond and recorded by the Monkees back in the 60ties).
My main problem with this shows was the casting and by this I mean the casting of the leads. First of all there’s Amanda Holden (Fiona) who is semi-well known for appearing on several UK tv shows. While her name might help to attract an audience I think she’s just not right for the part. Her singing is weak and in my opinion she lacks stage presence and has zero chemistry with her fellow cast members. Before anyone jumps on me: I’m sure she’s a nice person and she is reasonably talented but for me she just doesn’t have what it takes to play a lead part in a West End show (and I’ve seen her in Thoroughly Modern Millie in which I found her equally bland).
Next up Nigel Lindsay (Shrek) who is by all means an actor but no singer and who (to me) always looks slightly uncomfortable in his mask and costume.
And there’s Richard Blackwood (Donkey) who tries his best to impersonate Eddie Murphy on stage… and fails. His Donkey is simply not funny and his singing is not even close to average (some people just can’t sing, nothing wrong with that but don’t try and make them on a theatre stage!).
Only the fantastic Nigel Harman (Lord Farquaard) and the brilliant Landi Osinowo (Dragon) really managed to entertain me. Nigel Harman is just brilliantly funny (I won’t give anything away in case you haven’t seen the show) and Landi Oshinowo… well, what a voice!!
And I won’t forget the absolutely stunning ensemble! Special mention to Amy Beadel as Teen Fiona who makes her West End debut in this show and the lovely Ashley Hale who always manages to catch my eye in every show I’ve seen her in so far. Watching all those talented people give their all on stage was one of the few delightful moments during my preview visits.
VisitS you ask? Yes, I went to see the show twice simply because I wanted to catch a full cast on my first visit and return on a date where Amanda Holden was scheduled to be off. Need I say that her understudy, the fantastic Alice Fearn, stole the show on my second visit? Great vocals, great acting – I finally realised that this could be a proper and enjoyable show if only they had cast the right people in the lead roles.
After all that talk about past visits now on to visit number 3 which took place on September 3rd 2011 (matinee). This time the reason was simple: Dean Chisnall.
I have been following his career since I saw him play the lead role in Never Forget back in 2008 (the Take That musical – some might not even recall there was such a thing but I tell you it was a fun show full of energy). Call me biased but the guy is wasted in the ensemble so the chance to see his take on the big green Ogre was too tempting to resist.
And what can I say? It was like watching a new show!! I found myself taping my foot to the music and I even giggled briefly during the infamous “fart song” (don’t ask!). And I never imagined I’d actually start tearing up during “When words fail”. I do cry at everything on tv but it takes quite something to make my eyes water in a theatre. Dean’s Shrek was funny and heart warming and he made me care for this “ugly Orgre”. And his voice – why oh why is that man stuck in the ensemble so often? Give the guy a proper lead part I say!!
After having seen Nigel play Shrek two times I was under the impression that it was simply not possible to show proper emotions whilst wearing this monster of a mask and costume. Well, Dean proved me wrong – Shrek was funny, Shrek was sad, Shrek was angry, Shrek was disappointed. Shrek’s feelings were visible and that made such a huge difference to me.
Richard Blackwood still didn’t quite convince me but since Alice Fearn was on as Fiona again I honestly couldn’t care less. I was in understudy heaven one could say. Her and Dean can easily be called the Shrek-Dreamteam. Amazing stage chemistry!
Shrek will never be one of my favourite shows, I can safely say that. But it is not as terrible as I first thought it was. It’s certainly not “Sondheim” but then it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a fun and entertaining family show. And with the right cast that is exactly what it is. Having said that, a “fart song” is still questionable if you ask me.
So everyone, if you do get the chance please support the great understudies in this show and go see Dean as Shrek and Alice as Fiona. It’s worth it!
For more information visit www.shrekthemusical.co.uk