Tag Archives: Shrek Musical

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 .

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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.

Next theatre trip coming up….

14 Sep

Been a bit quiet but unfortunately too much work and nasty shoulder problems have prevented me from any freetime writing. Will make up for that with some reviews soon.

So, my next theatre trip is coming up. I’ve got quite a few shows booked so hopefully there will be something for everyone once I’ve managed to review all of them. In case anyone wants a first taste, here’s the list of what’s to come:
Anna Christie (bit of Jude Law can’t be wrong!)
Les Miserables (hoping both Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser will be on as scheduled)
Jersey Boys (twice – once with Jon Lee and once with Ryan Molloy as Frankie)
Parade (because I finally want to see that one on stage after missing the Donmar production and because Simon Bailey is in it)
Rock of Ages or Shrek (Rock of Ages is my first choice as I haven’t seen it yet but if I miss out on day seats for that I’ll try and get a ticket for Shrek)

And last but not least I shall attend the second West End Rockaoke at Roadhouse, Covent Garden on Sunday Sept 18th. The first one back in June was lots of fun so hopefully this one will be a great night out as well. Bloomfield Avenue are playing – if you haven’t heard of them go check them out now: http://www.bloomfieldavenueband.co.uk/ – and there will be performers from various West End shows.

Anyone who’s in town and free on Sunday evening should definitely consider coming down to Roadhouse. Doors open around 6pm and you get 2 for 1 drinks until 7:30pm. Rockaoke starts around 8pm.
Put your name on the guestlist as it tends to get busy (and you wouldn’t want to queue outside and maybe miss out on the 2 for 1 drinks, would you?): http://www.roadhouse.co.uk.

So, I’ll speak to you all next week! xx

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.

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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