As scores of excited children, parents and journalists swarmed into The Lowry in Manchester last night (February 3), the excitement in the air was palpable. I must admit, Shrek is one of my favourite franchises of all time and so I was just as intrigued as everybody else to see what was going to be brought to the stage as the musical returned to the North West, almost 15 years after the original movie lit up the big screen and took home an Oscar.
Dean Chisnall opens the show in the titular role, giving a little bit of history to his character and adding a depth and new layer to Shrek from the off. Hilarity ensues almost immediately as we see him at a young age told to 'go away' by his parents, who couldn't be more excited to see the back of him. When Bronté Barbé interrupts in the role of Princess Fiona, the chemistry is instant as the two begin a battle they'd later pick up, on just who has had it worse through life.
Chisnall is masterful as Shrek, with his put-on Scottish accent sounding almost as good as the real thing. Barbé's weight on her American accent is stark in its contrast, feeling a little forced at times but still good enough to enjoy the actress' peppy performance. Both have gorgeous tones and impressive vocal ranges that allow the original songs throughout the show to really soar - we left feeling as though the movie was missing something because it DIDN'T have the songs, rather than the opposite being true.
Idriss Kargbo is undeniably one of the biggest draws of the whole production with his brilliant revival of Donkey and his larger than life personality. He's sassy, quick-witted and kept the laughs coming, shining most brightly during his travels to Fiona's castle with Shrek, and in his face-off turned dance-off with Candace Furbert's Dragon. The puppeteers looking after the dragon really have to be commended; their work is impeccable as the creature soars through the sky delighting the crowd.
Then there's Gerard Carey, who threatened to steal the show on more than one occasion. As Lord Farquaad he's supposed to be the villain, but as he scuttled across the stage on his tiny little legs, delivering campy dialogue both to the crowds and those who joined him on stage, you just had to laugh along. His issues are explored in more detail than we've seen before and it's great to find out just why he's got such a problem with extraordinarily different people in 'The Ballad of Farquaad'. Simply put, Farquaad has daddy issues.
As a whole the entire cast are perfect. This is truly an ensemble show where each star is allowed to shine, whether that be the cross-dressing wolf (Iain Mattley), Gingy (Nikki Bentley), Pinocchio (Will Haswell) or any of the other fairytale creatures. Together they're incredibly powerful.
Both a visual and auditory treat, the orchestra do an incredible job of bringing songs to life without overpowering the on stage talent, whilst the stage set impresses throughout, opening like a story book to begin before delving into various other exciting settings, such as the bridge over hot molten lava and Shrek's suddenly overcrowded swamp.
'Fairytales should really be updated.' That's the message we're left with when Shrek the Musical comes to an end and it's one that rings especially true.
Should Shrek be considered a fairytale? Well, why not? It's a modern take on the tale of the princess who needs rescuing that so many stories of the past have taken the form of, twisting and turning the usual patterns we see to create something truly memorable. Children and adults alike have fallen in love with the smelly green ogre and as an audience we're encouraged to celebrate our differences and quirks, allowing our 'freak flags' to fly whilst battling adversary.
This is a show that the children will fall in love with and the adults will sometimes even blush at. There are hidden little jokes for those with an older sense of humour and plenty to make the younger generation laugh. Shrek the Musical is a stellar piece of performance art and I don't think any other writers could have done a better job.
Shrek the Musical runs until February 20 at The Lowry in Manchester.