Shrek the Musical – Theatre Review

The much-anticipated Broadway smash hit Shrek the Musical finally opened in Melbourne this week to a packed out Her Majesty’s Theatre. With a star-studded cast, does the hype live up to expectations? I’m not sure that it does.

Starring Ben Mingay as everyone’s favourite ogre, Shrek. The production also consists of Lucy Durack as the feisty Princess Fiona, theatre legend Todd McKenney as the ‘obviously compensating’ Lord Farquaad, Nat Jobe as the annoyingly loveable sidekick Donkey, and a talented ensemble cast that bring the Academy Award winning film to life on the Melbourne stage.

Shrek is a story that most adults would know quite well from their childhood. I too loved the film. Sadly, I think that is where my love for this story ends. After seeing the re-imagining of the film live on-stage, I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I had hoped I would. I mean, it’s not horrible and it is certainly a good production. However, a lot of the comedy (mostly from Shrek, Donkey and Fiona) wasn’t consistent throughout. The show contained a lot of toilet humour, which as a kid I loved, but now as an adult, it just didn’t hit the mark like I quite expected.

It’s not all bad though, Todd McKenney is utterly and brilliantly hilarious. His portrayal of the tiny Lord Farquaad is something to be seen. I was in stitches every time McKenney hit the stage. It can’t have been physically easy to portray the character the way he did, but it appears so natural and effortless. I won’t spoil how, as it’s something that you need to witness for yourself, but he certainly gives his quads a workout as Farquaad.

Ben Mingay is brilliant as Shrek. It isn’t an easy feat to carry on an accent for the entirety of a show, let alone to do it with heavy makeup and prosthetic. But Mingay is still able to belt out a tune at the top of his lungs with no problem. Mingay‘s portrayal of Shrek is relatable for anyone who has felt like an outcast. You really feel for his character, not to mention his musical chops are out of this world. Personally, I have never seen Ben Mingay perform before, so his stellar performance was a wonderful first impression and a delight to watch.

Everyone loves Lucy Durack; she’s been around the theatre tracks for a long time. Notably for me as Glinda in Wicked. Sadly, her portrayal of Princess Fiona was a character that appears to be much the same as the other characters I’ve seen her portray. I mean, her performance was great and she got a rousing reception from the audience, but it just didn’t do it for me. Same goes for Nat Jobe’s Donkey. The jokes and punchlines just didn’t hit the mark. However, I feel this is more a fault of the writing rather than the delivery. I felt the humour in the production was very hit and miss. There are moment I was keeling over and moments I was just rolling my eyes.

A notable mention to guest performer Denise Devlin as the singing voice of the Dragon, filling in the shoes of the role prior to Marcia Hines‘ arrival. Her booming voice reached even the corners of the theatre and gave Dragon the sassy and commanding spirit that the puppet needed to make her a believable character and for everyone to enjoy.

A standout of this production from Gordon Frost is the costuming and set designs from Tim Hatley. The fairy-tale characters all look incredible and resemble those from the animated film flawlessly. The set is cartoonish and draws you into the fantasy land with ease. With the added use of projected images, the whole stage is transformed. The quick scene changes are equally as impressive as the set itself, and even at times had me thinking “Where did she come from?” when cast would appear on-stage.

Shrek the Musical isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either, and I’m still not entirely sure whether I liked it or not. Most people I spoke to after the show loved it, so perhaps maybe it’s just me? As mentioned, there were moments I was in stitches and loving every moment. Most of those moments were when Todd McKenney was on stage. However, the songs weren’t memorable and as previously mentioned, the forced humour just didn’t seem to work.

I know for sure that kids will love this show regardless of my opinion. With the opening night crowd, there was plenty of laughter from both the children and the adults, but especially from the children in the audience. While this is a family friend and targeted show, I must advise to please only take your kids if they are willing to watch the show without the distractions of mobile phones. Unfortunately, I witnessed several phones pop-up during the show, with one in particular even playing games. This severely hindered my experience, as I was distracted by the glare of a phone screens on several occasions throughout the performance.

Is Shrek the Musical worth seeing? Yes. I am definitely glad I got the chance to see this production. It is a fun way to re-live the much-loved Oscar award-winning animation from almost 20 years ago. It is also a great introduction for a younger generation to this beloved silly fairytale.

Shrek the Musical is on now at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre until April 12 before it ships off to Brisbane in May.

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Photography by Brian Geach.

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