Visually splendid show pitches firmly to kids, selling its assets woefully short
by Christian Baines
Lower Ossington Theatre makes good use of the larger space available at the Randolph Theatre.
To be honest, not really… which is not to say it’s bad, either. The story is as much fun as it ever was, but the score is largely made up of serviceable, instantly forgettable riffs on familiar Broadway styles.
There are no memorable showstoppers that leap naturally from the plot like Legally Blonde’s Bend ‘n’ Snap, but there are no ear-aching dogs like Sister Act’s Lady in a Long Black Dress, either. So most of the heavy lifting is left to David Lindsay-Abaire’s book, a good chunk of which is transplanted from the film. It’s been some years since I’ve seen the movie, so this didn’t bother me particularly, nor did it bother the families in the audience happily lapping up the familiar characters and jokes. So Shrek the Musical does exactly what it says on the can, putting the well-known story up on stage with songs to move it along. No more, no less.
Andrew Di Rosa delivers a strong enough Shrek, though his voice occasionally struggles, while Mark Willett seems to be summoning his best Eddie Murphy impression as Donkey. It’s a blessing to some gags and a curse to others, gradually becoming less noticeable as the show continues. And I’m quite sure, somewhere, some ‘sensitive’ soul has raised the possible blackface implication of this (though technically, he’s grey-facing).
By far the production’s biggest problem though is that it buries Shrek’s biggest asset, its sophistication and adult sass. There are too many great jokes – both original and lifted from the film – that aren’t landing, because they’re not being given the commitment they deserve. Some of this can be blamed on sound imbalances, as actors fight to be heard (I’m starting to think this might be a ‘thing’ with the Randolph since Nobody’s Idol at the Fringe suffered the same problem). But some of these failures are down to direction and timing. All too often I just wanted to reach in and slow the cast down so we (and they) could relish some of the real zingers that pepper this show. Specifically, if you’re going to parody the biggest number from Wicked, you’d better be serious about going there, nailing the gag and making it so instantly obvious that even those unfamiliar with Wicked will know something’s up. When the Big Bad Wolf reveals his big bad secret, it should be faaaaaabulous instead of just… well, awkward (and ill-fitting!).