Tag Archives: Dean Chisnall

Working at Southwark Playhouse

20 Jun

Working – a song cycle giving a glimpse into the life of ordinary working people in America – opened at Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited run earlier this month. The basis for this collection of mini stories are interviews conducted in the 1970s. Add Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda (amongst others) to the mix and you have a pretty solid basis for a stellar show.

Working features a cast of six established musical theatre performers: Peter Polycarpou, Dean Chisnall, Liam Tamne, Krysten Cummings, Siubhan Harrison and Gillian Bevan. They are joined by six new drama school graduates who are making their professional debuts in this production.

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There is no weak link in the cast and everyone on stage gets the chance to shine. I was particularly impressed by Peter Polycarpou’s “Fathers and Sons” and Dean Chisnall’s “Brother Tucker”. I also have to mention Gillian Bevan’s showstopping number about life as a waitress and Liam Tamne’s superb comic timing both as a delivery man and a call center agent. And special mention for Dean Chisnall’s appearance as both a golfer and a UPS man. Every scene, no matter how short, is a small highlight and I left the show with a big smile on my face because I knew I had just witnessed something very special.

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In this show you will find stories of teachers and construction workers, of waitresses and truck drivers, of firemen and housewives – Working gives America’s working community a voice. It tells the audience about their struggles, their hopes, their fears and their dreams.

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With a dazzling mix of musical styles and gripping choreography by Fabian Aloise this is a show that manages the leap between a relevant message and an entertaining night out. Working feels raw and real and beautifully honest.

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Working is running at Southwark Playhouse until July 8th 2017. For more info and to book tickets visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/working/.

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Blood Brothers – UK Tour 2016/2017

24 Oct

Blood Brothers – the story of the Johnstone twins. It’s a modern classic by now and one of those shows every musical theatre fan should watch at least once.

We meet Mrs. Johnstone who ist struggling to make a living for herself and her children. When she finds out she is expecting twins things seem hopeless. But then her employer Mrs. Lyons who has been unsuccessful in getting pregnant herself makes her an offer that seems to solve her problems.

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Lyn Paul is no stranger to the role of Mrs Johnstone. I admit I am having trouble seeing her as a woman in her mid-twenties these days (Mrs. Johnstone’s age at the start of the show). But she makes up for this with superb acting and a wonderful, rich voice that really does the beautiful melodies in this show justice. Sarah Jane Buckley is a fantastic Mrs. Lyons. She manages the walk between slightly snobbish upper class woman and desperate mother haunted by fear of losing “her” son perfectly.

However, Blood Brothers stands and falls with the Johnstone twins. There’s the working class twin Mickey (brilliantly played by Sean Jones) and the upper class twin Eddie (Joel Benedict – a joy to watch). The relationship between these two is absolutely crucial and Sean Jones and Joel Benedict work together flawlessly. You can feel the bond between the twins and that is down to the portrayal of those two fantastic performers.

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A new face in the world of Blood Brothers is Dean Chisnall as the Narrator. Not only can the man sing he also brings a great mix of menace and compassion to the character. From my experience the Narrator can be quite cold and calculating – in some cases I have seen him practically lead the narrative to its tragic ending. Dean Chisnall’s Narrator appears more thoughtful – knowing what will happen and unable to stop it but not trying to push the story forward. It’s almost as if he wanted nothing to do with what is going to happen. For me this is a great new take on the character.

The rest of the cast does a great job. There are several familiar faces in case you have been following the past productions. And although the show might feel a bit dated (and the set certainly looks it) this is a must see production. Blood Brothers is a beautifully sad story that will pull you in completely. It’s one of those emotionally draining nights out at the theatre. And I don’t know about you but I need one of those now and then.

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Blood Brothers is on tour until April 2017. Dean Chisnall is staying with the show for the rest of the tour. Joel Benedict has left the cast.

For tour dates and to book tickets go here.

Shrek UK Tour – Leeds Grand Theatre – 1st August 2014

9 Aug

When a West End show goes on tour the first thing many people wonder is: Will the tour version do the show justice? Will it be downsized and turn out to be a disappointing experience for those who have seen the scale of the West End version?

I admit when it came to Shrek that fear was not on my mind. Having watched the show numerous times while it was playing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane I had always thought it would be a show easy to tour without too many changes. And I wasn’t wrong.

Shrek has just started its UK tour and is currently playing at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. And everyone who knows the show will be pleasantly surprised to notice the set has only been altered slightly to make it tour-able. It’s still colourful, the dragon is just as well done – even though the puppeteers need a bit more practise I dare to say – and I was quite impressed they even managed to work out a believable version of the bridge and lava (you’ll understand it when you see it).

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The staging of the show is quite similar to the West End production with just a few minor changes. My only grip would be the lack of a young Princess Fiona in the opening scene. I’m sure there’s a reason for it but having a young Shrek but no young Fiona looks a bit strange to me especially since there is a young Fiona for “I know it’s today” so it’s not like they have cut her completely. But I am definitely complaining on a high level here – no one beside me probably even spared a single thought on this.

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Leading the cast is a familiar face: Dean Chisnall reprises his role as Shrek and he is without a doubt the highlight of the show. It still amazes me to see how well-defined his portrayal is – after all he is trapped in a costume that doesn’t leave much room for movement let alone facial expressions. But Dean manages to give Shrek heart and soul. His Shrek is lovable, he makes me laugh and he makes me root for the character which is quite an achievement considering big green ogres are usually not my type and I have never even managed to watch Shrek the movie (I tried but gave up after about twenty minutes). And to top it all Dean has a voice to die for and he has obviously been working on the songs since his stint in the West End production. There is a significant change in his vocal tone especially noticeable in “Big bright beautiful world”. He has always sounded great but this is something else – a proper treat to listen to.

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Faye Brookes plays Princess Fiona with a feisty charm that suits the character well. Gerard Carey’s Lord Farquaad is not quite on the same level as his predecessors but I’m sure he will get there with time. His facial expressions are hilarious though and he has a great voice. Idriss Kargbo is the new Donkey and even though it is nice to see a performer in the role who can actually sing the songs I can’t warm to his portrayal. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possibly the role itself and not so much the performer who is playing it. I just don’t like Donkey and his over the top behaviour.

The ensemble does a wonderful job in the show. They truly embrace their fairytale roles and it’s obvious how much fun they are having on stage. Special mention for James Winter who is brilliantly funny as Pied Piper.

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Shrek the musical delivers exactly what it is supposed to: An enjoyable and light-hearted evening in the theatre. It’s a show both adults and kids will enjoy. There’s a nice score, a talented cast, colourful sets and costumes and a story that’s easy to follow without being pointless.

If you get the chance make sure to check out the show. It will most likely come to a venue near you in the upcoming year. For more info and tour dates visit http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk, find the show on Facebook and follow on Twitter @ShrekUKTour .

2012 – A look back

31 Dec

With 2012 coming to an end I thought it was time to look back at the past 12 months and sum up my theatre related highlights of the year. And what a year this has been! I have had the opportunity to discover new shows, keep re-visiting my favourite shows, spend time with some amazing people, travel to places I haven’t been to before and – thanks to this blog – share my views on shows and theatre in general with all you guys.

It’s impossible to name each and every fantastic theatre moment – there are just way too many. But I want to mention a few that have had a special impact for various reasons. Lets start with my show highlights.

First of all one of my all time favourites is still going strong: Jersey Boys. That show has been a huge part of my theatre life since 2008 and I’m happy I got to visit the boys and girls in Jersey a lot during 2012. Obviously I have my favourites in every part but all in all the whole cast of this show is doing such an amazing job. They are the reason I will never get bored of the show. A special thank you goes out to Ryan Molloy (you are totally mad but I love you for it), Jon Boydon, Ben Wheeler, Mike Conway, Matt Wycliffe, Eugene McCoy, Mark Isherwood and TeeJaye. You guys are amazing!

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Another show that has had a huge impact on my 2012 is Les Miserables. Thank’s to (mainly) Ramin Karimloo I ended up seeing that show around 25 times between January and March 2012. Ramin’s Jean Valjean was quite simply one of the most stunning things I have ever seen in a show – breathtakingly fantastic all around. And his final show is definitely in the top three of my favourite theatre performances of 2012.

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Next up is a show I wish I could have seen more often than just twice. But sadly a limited run (clashing with the Olympics as well) prevented me from that. It is, of course, Mack and Mabel which was staged at the Southwark Playhouse this summer. This show was such a perfect production, from set and choreography right through to the cast (led by the wonderful Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford).

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A show that restored my faith in musical theatre was Singin’ in the rain at the Palace Theatre. Shows like this are the reason I fell in love with musical theatre in the first place – from the dancing to the story to the amazingly talented cast, there’s no weak link in this production. I adore that show and it’s on my list of shows to see a lot more often in 2013.

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One of the smallest yet most enjoyable shows I have seen this year is Boy meets Boy at Jermyn Street Theatre. My reason to book tickets was Stephen Ashfield who I always enjoy to see on stage. I ended up loving this gem of a musical and would be thrilled to see it get another run sometime in the future.

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There were so many other shows I enjoyed (and still enjoy) watching. I can’t name them all but if you’ve been reading my blog and maybe even follow me on Twitter you probably have a basic idea anyway.

I’ll go on with some gig highlights of 2012.

The ones that had the biggest impact on me (and my travel diary) are Ramin Karimloo’s Road to find out concerts in May 2012. Without this tour I would never have ended up visiting cities like Newcastle, Cardiff and Birmingham. The tour consisted of 10 concerts and I am proud to say I managed to attend 7 of them – not bad considering I was flying over from Germany all the time. Was it worth it you may ask? Oh yes! I had a brilliant time. It was wonderful to see Ramin explore this new chapter in his career and I hope he continues to be successful with what he enjoys so much – making music.

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Some slightly smaller but still memorable concerts were the Bloomfield Avenue gigs at Roadhouse, Covent Garden on various Sundays throughout 2012. If you haven’t heard of that band I urge you to check them out: http://www.bloomfieldavenueband.co.uk/. They are currently looking for a new London venue for 2013 so watch out for any upcoming gigs.

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And finally some personal highlights that will remain a special memory of 2012 for me.

I still remember how thrilled I was when Dean Chisnall was promoted to playing the lead in Shrek the musical. I have known Dean for several years and I am proud to call such a wonderful and talented person my friend. And trust me when I say: Dean is by far the most dedicated performer you will ever meet. He so deserved to have a lead part in a big West End show and this year he finally achieved just that. It fills me with joy to see Dean on stage in such an iconic theatre as Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Here’s to more fantastic parts in great shows in the future!

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Tim Howar taking over as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages is yet another highlight of 2012. I first saw Tim on stage in Tonight’s the night (the Rod Stewart musical – some of you may remember it) in 2003 and fell in love with his voice straight away. Tim has to be one of the kindest people on this planet. I feel privileged to know him and I’m beyond happy that he is back on stage in the West End where he belongs.

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My charity auction in aid of The Brain Research Trust was by far the most challenging theatre related project this year. Lots of emails, walking around the West End collecting posters and programmes and generally a lot of organisational work – but it was all so worth it. I couldn’t have done it without all the support from various lovely people (thank you again – you know who you are). It was great to see what a wonderful community the theatre world really is.

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So, all that’s left now is a look out for what is to come in 2013. There are so many things I’m already looking forward to. In no particular order:

1. Once the musical
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3. Book of Mormon
4. Seeing MiG Ayesa and Jenna Lee James in the We will rock you arena tour
5. Seeing my lovely friend Björn Klein play Emmett in Legally Blonde in Vienna
6. Seeing Peter Johansson as Stacee Jaxx in Stockholm
7. Finally seeing Ben Whishaw live on a theatre stage
9. Watching The Bodyguard again (slightly addicted I fear…)
10. Generally continuing to support my favourite performers

… the list goes on…

With that I will leave you for 2012. Thank you for sticking with me throughout the year. I really appreciate your support for my little blog. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep you entertained with more reviews and other theatre related posts in 2013 (watch out for my review of The Bodyguard which is coming up as soon as possible).

Happy new year everyone! I hope 2013 brings you all you ever wished for. Keep in touch – comment, tweet or email me. I love to hear from you guys. x

2013 Whatsonstage Awards – A personal plug

7 Dec

As a lot of you will have noticed the shortlists for the 2013 Whatsonstage Awards have been announced today. So now it’s time to start thinking about who to vote for. For some categories voting will probably be easy for you and I’m sure there will be the odd category in which you are undecided or simply have no idea who to vote for.

If one of those categories happens to be Best Takeover in a role I’d like you to consider giving your vote to Dean Chisnall for Shrek in Shrek the musical. Now, I know this show is not to everyone’s taste and you may have seen it and not been blown away by it. But please read on and let me tell you why I think you should vote for Dean anyway.

I have known Dean for a couple of years now. I first saw him on stage when he was in Never Forget and I have followed his career ever since. And I can say without a doubt that I have never met a more dedicated performer in my 15+ years of theatre going. Dean truly loves his job and he puts everything into it. After understudying the part for almost a year he was promoted to first cast Shrek in February 2012 and he has been playing the role night after night to rave reviews ever since (actually those reviews started while he was still an understudy – I’ve never heard people say a bad word about his performance no matter if they liked the show as a whole or not). Shrek is one of the toughest parts in the West End at this point – he’s on stage almost constantly and you can imagine performing in that costume is not easy. But Dean will never give less than 100%.

I interviewed Dean for this blog a short while ago and asked him about the awards. This is what he had to say: “I’m so competitive! And everyone wants to win, of course they do. But I feel like the show deserves a bit more recognition than it’s had. And it would feel like such a triumph not just for me but for anyone who’s ever understudied. I’m sure there are other people in the category who will get shortlisted who won’t have done the route that I’ve done. I’ve been an understudy for so many years and then to get the part of Shrek – it would be a triumph for everyone who has ever covered anything. That’s my main reason for wanting to win. Obviously personal pride comes into it as well but I’d rather win it for everybody else to be honest.”

I know competition in the Best Takeover category is tough. I adored Ramin Karimloo’s take on Jean Valjean and really enjoyed seeing Gina Beck as Glinda (to name just two other nominees). So all I ask of you is to consider giving your vote to someone who has truly worked his butt off for being where he is today and who – after being an understudy in several shows – has finally gotten a lead part in a big West End show. Personally, I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of an award.

Follow this link to vote: http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/vote

PS: Thought this might be quite fitting. Feel free to use this wherever you like. 😉

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West End’s leading man Dean Chisnall: “I literally get to live my dream every day.”

26 Nov

The first thing you notice when entering Dean Chisnall’s dressing room at Theatre Royal Drury Lane is how unbelievably cozy it is. “I spend so much time in here so I wanted my dressing room to be nice and comfortable.”

Dean has taken over the lead role of Shrek in Shrek the musical in February after understudying the part for just under a year. So how does a regular working day look like for Dean these days? “On a normal day I get up around 10am and then I either play golf with some friends and chill out that way or I just spend time at home, walk the dog and so on. My life has changed so much because of this job.” Dean tells me. “This show is really hard and demanding. It takes everything out of you. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“I’m in make up at 5 o’clock for an hour and a half. Actually it’s non-stop from 5 o’clock although I don’t do very much. I just sit in a chair. But you have to be quite concentrated because if you’re not you can get irritated. That’s the difficult thing. You have to zone out and concentrate and then do the show. To most people it doesn’t sound like that much of an exciting day but to me it is.”

Dean as Shrek in Shrek the musical

One thing that comes across straight away when you hear Dean talking about his work is how much he enjoys doing what he does.

“I love my job and I’m dedicated to it and I wouldn’t let anything get in the way of it. Some people might think that is wrong. But I’m lucky to be in this position, to have been given this opportunity. Someone’s put their faith in me to do this. And I will do everything I can.”

And this obviously applies to every job Dean has done since he started out as a performer. He tells me: “No sick day since June 2008 and even then I had to be thrown out of the theatre. I got a throat infection in Never Forget and went to see the doctor who told me I needed some time out. I never had a day off sick until then since I started the business in 2005. And I was gutted. Absolutely gutted!”

“This (Shrek the musical) is totally different because – even in the ensemble last year – it is such a huge show to do. It’s very tiring. You’re either dressed up as a pig (Dean’s ensemble part prior to taking over as Shrek) or you’re costume changing into something else. But to take on the part of Shrek and not have had a sick day so far – touch wood! But then I pride myself on my attendance and my attitude towards my work and my craft. It’s important. Some people in the business take things very easy so to speak but I’m not one of them and I never will be. Like I said, someone has given me this opportunity so I will do all I can. But to not have had a sick day on this show I’m really proud of because if you’re not feeling well and you get the make-up on it’s hard. You really don’t want to do this and you have to be sensible.”

After playing this part full-time for several months Dean still remembers the first time he ever went on as an understudy quite vividly. “It was five minutes into the show. I’ll never forget it because for your first show you want to be prepared. And I was prepared – as prepared as you can be having done my cover runs and all – but it was quite early after we’d done press night. We did five minutes of the show then the fire alarm went off. It was a strange evening. Nigel had no voice anyway to start with. So we all went outside and I remember standing at stage door hearing them call my name and then the company manager came and told me I was on. The make-up normally takes an hour and a half, that night it took 25 minutes. They plastered something on my face and they did a great job and made it look absolutely fine. But by the end of the show it was literally falling off my face.”

With Shrek coming to an end in February next year it’s time to start thinking about the future. So what’s next for Dean then?

“There’s so much I want to achieve but you never know what’s going to happen, do you? But one thing I’m very proud of: No one can ever take this away from me. If no one ever gives me work again I can always say I’ve sat in this dressing room and I’ve stood on that stage at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I literally get to live my dream every day.” And he continues “I think this is my favourite job so far. It doesn’t get any bigger than this really. In the realms of musical theatre at present there aren’t many bigger shows and bigger parts in town.”

But then this is not Dean’s first experience at playing a leading role in a West End show. “I loved Never Forget. I was a leading man in it at quite a young age. And it’s funny because I grew up listening to two shows I always wanted to do and still want to do: Les Mis and especially Phantom. That’s where I see my vocal strength. So when I got a call saying ‘They’d like to see you for the Take That musical’ I genuinely thought it was a joke. And if I’m totally honest I went in expecting nothing. Of course, at every audition you try your best even if your heart is not totally in it. And mine probably wasn’t because I thought I had no chance. I went in and sang a Barry Manilow song – and I had a blast. The director and I had a really nice chemistry. But I thought that was it. So when I got told they were really interested in me for the Gary Barlow part I thought my agent was taking the mickey out of me. But six weeks later I got the part and I have to say I had a really good time. I miss it in a way. It was a fun show and I think it could have turned into another Mamma Mia. It just wasn’t the right time. It deserved to have a much longer life.”

Dean (on the right) as Ash in Never Forget

With a chuckle he adds “Doing that show I thought I was going to die. The choreography was tough! I can move but I’m not a dancer and in this one I had to somehow get away with it. But then Gary Barlow isn’t a dancer either so I guess I might have been perfectly cast.”

Never Forget certainly attracted a special audience and the five leads got a lot of attention – female attention in particular. Is this something Dean misses these days? “No! I’m not interested in attention to be honest. I like to say I’m ambitious and I love my job and it’s very kind when people want to support me and I see that as a real privilege. But I’m not yearning for the attention. I have no desire to be famous. I like to continue to be a success in my job but the attention and the fame thing really isn’t important to me. I don’t think it’s wrong for people to want that but I’m just not that kind of person. And Never Forget was something I’d never seen in my life. It was mental sometimes. We literally got assaulted – in the nice sense of the word.”

“It’s been four years since Never Forget closed. I still think it’s a shame. But I made some good friends in the show especially the director and the producer – they both play cricket with me!”

Sport is a huge part of Dean’s life. Besides playing cricket he is also a keen golfer. “Obviously I love my cricket. I grew up playing it. But a few years ago I discovered my love for golf. It’s so addictive! Other people will go to the pub to relax or they go for a night out. My relaxation and my release of any stress that I’ve had throughout the week is to play golf. You get some fresh air, get to socialise with your friends and you get to play a very highly skilled sport. My dad always played golf and I didn’t really see the attraction back then but five or six years ago I started to take it quite seriously. It really is such a lovely way to relax.”

Dean is eligible for “Best Takeover in a role” in the upcoming 2013 Whatsonstage Awards. With nominations being open for voting right now one does wonder how important awards are to him.

“I’m so competitive! And everyone wants to win, of course they do. But I feel like the show deserves a bit more recognition than it’s had. And it would feel like such a triumph not just for me but for anyone who’s ever understudied. I’m sure there are other people in the category who will get shortlisted who won’t have done the route that I’ve done. I’ve been an understudy for so many years and then to get the part of Shrek – it would be a triumph for everyone who has ever covered anything. That’s my main reason for wanting to win. Obviously personal pride comes into it as well but I’d rather win it for everybody else to be honest.”

You can catch Dean as Shrek at Theatre Royal Drury Lane until the 24th of February 2013. For more info about the show and to book tickets visit http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk.

And if you feel like nominating Dean for the 2013 Whatsonstage Awards you can do so here: http://awards.whatsonstage.com/awards/nominations/best-takeover-in-a-role.

Shrek the musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane – 19th August 2012

26 Aug

I know Shrek is one of those shows that is looked down upon by not only regular theatre goers but also by people working in the industry. And I admit I most likely wouldn’t have watched it at all if there hadn’t been performer in the cast I wanted to see.
The show is designed to appeal to kids, that’s for sure. It has its rather cringy moments and it doesn’t play in the same league as shows like Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera.

BUT there was never a better time to give this show a try and actually have a fantastic evening than now. Why you may ask. Well, it’s quite simple: Shrek has never had better leads than at this very moment.

There’s Dean Chisnall as Shrek who is a true triple treat. He has a brilliant voice, he is able to act the part despite being stuck in a ridiculously heavy costume and he has proper stage presence. Shrek is such a hard part to play. Imagine having to display everything from joy to anger and sadness while being hidden behind a green mask. Dean manages to do just that. His Shrek shows emotions and no matter how tough it is on some days (hot weather is a killer when you’re wearing a fat suit on stage) he always gives his all. I’ve seen lots of performers who love their job but I can honestly say that Dean is the most dedicated performer I have ever met.

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Carley Stenson has taken over as Princess Fiona and she is a pure joy to watch. I was never a fan of Amanda Holden’s and Kimberly Walsh’s Fiona. I just didn’t find them suited for the part. Carley’s Fiona is funny and sweet and it’s brilliant to finally see someone in the part who has a fabulous voice (I do love Alice Fearn’s Fiona by the way and couldn’t choose between her and Carley when it comes to naming my favourite).

Neil McDermott has developed so much as Lord Farquaad. I remember not being convinced by his portrayal the first few times I saw him. But he has definitely made the part his own by now. Nigel Harman was a tough act to follow but Neil has found “his” Farquaad. He’s hilarious to watch and it certainly looks like he is having the best time on stage.

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Now, I had only ever seen Richard Blackwood as Donkey and although I have gotten used to his Donkey with time he was always the weak link in the cast for me. This time I was lucky enough to catch Aaron Lee Lambert in the part. And this is what made the show that day extremely special. Aaron’s Donkey is probably the campest thing I’ve ever seen on stage (and I’ve seen Priscilla!). I loved it! He made Donkey so extremely likable and he delivered the humour perfectly. And to top it all the guy can sing!! “Who I’d be” is my favourite song in the show and it’s even better to hear it sung by three amazing singers.

In my opinion the ensemble has always been the fifth lead in this show. Those guys and girls do an incredible job and work extremely well together. Even when facing a cut show on a boiling hot day (which was the case on this occasion with only two pigs instead of three up until the finale) they deliver a flawless performance. Special mention for Joseph Prouse who is brilliant as the Pied Piper and in his ensemble parts. He always manages to distract me from everything else that is going on on stage – and yes, that is a good thing!

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Shrek will never please everyone and it will always have its flaws but this show has definitely grown on me over the past months. And with an amazing Shrek, a hilarious Farquaad and a Fiona that can sing and act the part I recommend you give this show a chance even if you think this is nothing for you. If you don’t try you’ll never know what you’re missing!

Shrek is playing at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. For more info and to book tickets go here.

Watch out for my interview with Dean Chisnall which is coming up soon (depending on time) together with the chance to win a Shrek related price.

Shrek – The Musical, all good things are three?

8 Sep

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.

Dean

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