Monday, October 1, 2018

Shrek The Musical - Free Rain

Review by John Lombard

Free Rain’s production of Shrek The Musical is a gleeful romp that will delight even the surliest ogre.

This musical brings to the stage the 2001 anti-Disney Dreamworks film, itself loosely inspired by the William Steig children’s book.

While Shrek explicitly parodies Disney films, it has never been as savage as Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, or even the anarchic Fractured Fairy Tales. While it bursts tropes like the princess in a tower and the handsome prince, it does not endorse the ogre lifestyle.

When Shrek sings “Who I’d Be”, he gives lip service to being happy with being an ogre, but then to twinkling music dreams of being a conventional heroic type, while lamenting that his ugliness excludes him from a happy ending.

Director Ylaria Rogers gives us a boisterous, high energy production. Rogers' direction has a sympathy that encourages us to fully identify with the shunned ogre Shrek and unfairly imprisoned Princess Fiona.

The leads are brilliantly cast, and sing the music with panache. Max Gamble is perfect as Shrek, a crotchety ogre with a fearsome growl and a booming singing voice. Laura Murphy is a delightfully manic Princess Fiona, while Joel Hutchings charms as faithful but eccentric guide Donkey. Martin Searles is also a delight as a fey, hysterical and vile Lord Farquaad.

Fresh and interesting choreography by Michelle Heine stretched the ensemble. Each ensemble member played multiple distinctive parts, including well-realised fairy tale characters. If there was one ensemble highlight, it was the Les Mis-style fairy tale revolution song, "Freak Flag".

Appropriately, the music by Jeanine Tesori is upbeat and catchy, setting a tone of lively adventure. Fans of the movie will be glad to know that “I'm a Believer” is still there for the finale, although they may be disappointed at the absence of the iconic “All Star”.

Costumes were vivid, although the simple forest set felt hastily created, and did not have the professional polish notable in the performances and music. Also noteworthy was the massive and fearsome dragon, with Tegan Braithwaite providing the dragon's sultry voice - this diva of a dragon did not eat every passing knight, but kept some alive as back-up singers.

Shrek The Musical pretends to be streetwise, but is a softie at heart, as straightforward and sincere as any Disney movie. But the charm and humour are genuine, and entertaining performances and decent songs make Shrek The Musical perfect school holiday entertainment.