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Review Round-up: Fairy Tale Opening for Shrek?

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Shrek The Musical received its London premiere last night (14 June, previews from 6 May 2011) with Jason Moore and Rob Ashford's production enjoying a star-studded opening night at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Nigel Lindsay stars as the lonely ogre, alongside Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona, Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad and Richard Blackwood as Donkey.

Brought to the stage by Sam Mendes' Neal Street Productions and the theatrical debut of Hollywood studio Dreamworks Animations, the musical follows the plot of the 2001 Oscar-winning animated feature with Shrek finding happiness and conquering a fearsome dragon with the help of a wise-cracking donkey and a tough-talking Princess.

Michael Coveney

"Deftly adapted by Rabbit Hole playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and Caroline, or Change composer Jeanine Tesori from the first Shrek movie and the original 1990 story by William Steig ... The charm and concentration of the movie is dispersed in some lumbering musical theatre elaborations, and the scaly, bat-winged dragon – at first wielded by four puppeteers, then flying through the auditorium like a giant plastic pterodactyl from a cereal packet – is no rival to War Horse. But the bluesy, old-fashioned score and well-turned lyrics are fair enough, and both Nigels are terrific in different ways: Lindsay’s... niceness seeping through every green latex pore, while Harman is both funny and creepy ... The indisputable star... is Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona ... Whether tap-dancing with the Pied Piper’s rats... or claiming her destiny with her own infant and teenage re-incarnations... Holden performs with perfect poise, true vocal technique and an appealing, steely edge ... Tim Hatley’s colourful design... recreates the visual language and perspectives of the movie with some theatrical ingenuity. But, at the end of the day, it all feels a bit, well, small and childish in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, this famous bastion of the greatest musical theatre of our time, especially with a tacked-on feelgood finale (as in the movie) of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”, which, in live performance, exerts a karaoke effect to finish the night."

Michael Billington

"Once upon a time musicals drew their inspiration from books, plays or even real life; now they seem to be based on animated movies. But, although Shrek stems from the 2001 DreamWorks film, it is genuinely theatrical, generous-spirited and mercifully free of the sensory bombardment that afflicts some of its rivals. What it lacks is memorable tunes ... The show heightens the role of the undersized Lord Farquaad ... It retains the movie's humour ... Jeanine Tesori has come up with some perfectly serviceable numbers ... But it says a lot that the climactic song designed to send everyone out on a high is "I'm a Believer" ... We get sets that open up like the pages of a children's storybook, tap-dancing rats and a scaly dragon Nigel Harman... runs off with the show as Farquaad.Nigel Lindsay makes the tartan-trewed Shrek a lovable outcast. Richard Blackwood is tartly funny as his faithful donkey-friend... and Amanda Holden is a spirited Fiona. It's an amiable, well-crafted show that puts you in a pleasant frame of mind and that will fill a gap in the family market. But I was still left pining for that moment of ecstasy that is the musical's chief justification."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Fairytale meets panto meets Monty Python ... It has double entendres laced with absurdist sarcasm and striking stage effects ... I suspect 20-somethings will extract the most fun from this show. It is cheeky, colourful, camp, shafted by Simpsons-style irony. Children under 10 may gawp at the spectacle with all its primary colours and plasticky sets ... Big thumbs-up immediately for Nigel Lindsay as Shrek. His accent is a bit wobbly... but he makes Shrek thoroughly amiable ... Nigel Harman nearly steals the show as the vertically-challenged Farquaad ... A well-drilled company sings witty lyrics with precision, even though the the score is in places no richer than reach-for-the-skies transatlantic filler. The artistry never threatens to outshine the pacy razzamatazz. Amanda Holden’s voice is little stronger than a single gin and tonic but she has an attractive zest for the enterprise ... Sentiment, beauty and haunting melody are absent. But Shrek is energetically amusing."

Charles Spencer

"At a time when it seems to be de rigueur for every new stage musical to be based on a movie, it is no surprise to find Shrek being given the tune-and-toe-show treatment. It is, however, a surprise to find it in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane ... Brash, noisy and full of fart jokes though it is, Shrek will undoubtedly appeal to adults as well as children ... David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and lyrics have a welcome sense of mischief about them. At its best Jeanine Tesori’s score recalls the great soul music of the 1960s and ends with the bubblegum bliss of the Monkees ... Tim Hatley’s lurid designs are often spectacular ... Amanda Holden is a touch too hard-faced and soullessly professional as Princess Fiona, while Richard Blackwood doesn’t come close to matching the comic attack of Eddie Murphy’s voicing of the talking Donkey in the movie. Great lines constantly fall flat in Blackwood’s strangely detached, unfocused delivery. Nigel Lindsay,…captures the poignancy and gallows humour of Shrek and is genuinely touching in his search for love. And there is a smashing comic turn from Nigel Harman…as the vertically challenged, unbearably self-regarding Lord Farquaad. Shrek certainly doesn’t rank among the musical greats, but it offers an engaging couple of hours of family fun."

Maxie Szalwinska

"Shrek has been reworked since it shut up shop early on Broadway but, while the London version isn’t interminably bad, it’s still lumbering enough to make you wonder when it’ll be over. In turning DreamWorks’ animated film into a musical, the producers have misplaced much of the cartoon’s frisky wit ... The production has traces of charm, largely thanks to Amanda Holden’s gutsy Fiona ... But there’s not much romance here and not a whole lot of comedy, either, though tap-dancing rats liven things up and it’s fleetingly funny when Shrek and Fiona burp and fart at each other as a form of courtship. The show’s tone is alternately perky and schmaltzy: it never roots around in the story’s dark side. Richard Blackwood has a shaky American accent as Donkey, Shrek’s wisecracking sidekick. Tim Hatley’s plasticky sets couldn’t be less enchanting and Jeanine Tesori’s power ballad-style musical numbers do little to buoy the action."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"It now seems to be almost compulsory for new West End musicals to be based on hit films. There's plenty to savour in this jaunty story about the soft-heartedness of a bile-green ogre. The spirit is largely that of pantomime, with an extra layer of good-natured knowingness. David Lindsay-Abaire provides a solid book and cheering lyrics. Yet several of the film's best jokes are gone. Jeanine Tesori's score is unmemorable ... Nigel Lindsay's Shrek is affable, which makes it easy to understand how he gathers a huge retinue of followers ... As Princess Fiona, Amanda Holden shows considerable pluck as she copes with an inflatable deer, a prosthetic nose and a chorus of rats. Her poise is undeniable but her performance lacks a certain soul, while Richard Blackwood's Donkey has none of the charisma of Eddie Murphy's in the film. However, Nigel Harman is glorious as villainous dwarf Lord Farquaad. Jason Moore and Rob Ashford direct with aplomb. Tim Hatley's sets are ingenious and the dragon... is delightful. Yet I can't see children being enchanted by this. It's all a bit brash, and the assertively feelgood finale doesn't stir as it should. Though there's warmth and wit here, it's not a monster hit"

Libby Purves
The Times

"Nigel Lindsay... exudes a benign Falstaffian loveability. An inserted back-story and a few plot tweaks help, too… Shrek (is) thrown out into a world that hates him is underscored by his parents’ jolly song promising 'A big bright beautiful world' where every dream comes true 'but not for you'. Princess Fiona, too, was abandoned... for all her tomboy bravado, Amanda Holden actually manages to convey the pain of that ... Say what you like about glitzy Broadway feelgood shows, they do the job. Importantly, this show’s magic lies in wit, character and story rather than technology. The sets are storybook cutouts and the vast female dragon is visibly worked by a gang of puppeteers. As for the choreography, again wit rules: Nigel Harman as… Lord Farquaad dances elaborate routines while visibly on his knees, tiny false legs out. Under Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, the directors, the show preserves the film’s best jokes but adds a lot ... The new format permits jokes on other musicals, too … You go to the theatre to have your prejudices overturned, even if they are only about Amanda Holden. I entirely forgave her for being annoying on Britain’s Got Talent. Whether dancing with an inflatable deer or doing a tap routine with a rat chorus, she may not be a top musical-theatre voice, but she makes up for it in energy, physical wit and an heroic willingness to engage in an explicit belch-and-fart competition with Shrek. She’s no lady, and I loved her for it."

- Caitlin Robertson


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