Shrek: The Musical

20th to 23rd June 2019

David Lindsay-Abaire | Leicester Haymarket Theatre | Directed by Sally Bruton

Leicester Amateur Operatic Society bring the fairytale kingdom of Duloc magically to life on the Haymarket Theatre stage in this slick, vibrant and upbeat production. This is family entertainment of the highest order from a community theatre company packed full of talented singers, dancers and actors. Under Sally Bruton’s direction, with choreography by Lianne O’Connor, the heart of this green-ogre story emerges powerfully: acceptance and celebrating ‘what makes us all special’. In a country divided, it’s both joyful escapism and a timely reminder of the importance of love, friendship and tolerance in our lives.

This show is quite a coup for Leicester: LAOS are one of the first non-professional companies in the country granted permission to produce ‘Shrek The Musical’ and they rise to the challenge admirably. Expect big musical numbers, stunning sets and a host of your favourite fairytale characters as we follow everyone’s favourite ogre on his journey from hermit to hero.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s book and song lyrics, upon which this musical adaptation is based, preserve the wit and cleverness of the much-loved 2001 film, making the transfer from screen to stage of this family-favourite fairytale parody a hit. It’s a winning combination alongside Jeanine Tesori’s score, which blends pop, R&B and folk rock with more traditional full-on musical theatre numbers. Under Musical Director Steven Duguid, the band sound superb across all genres, ably supporting the vocal talent across the cast.

In the title role of the grumpy, gruff, green ogre James Daw is a strong lead, holding the company together in a layered performance which nicely captures the transition from isolated monster to romantic hero and friend. There’s real tenderness in both the friendship with his Donkey sidekick and the romance with Princess Fiona. Contrasting plentiful laughs and more upbeat songs, the second act reprise of ‘Big Bright Beautiful World’ is an unexpectedly moving and beautifully sung reflection on hope, dreams and daring to love.

As the beautiful princess of Far Far Away rescued by Shrek, Nade Franklyn brings comic timing, quirky wit and a superb voice to the role of Fiona. The chemistry with Shrek in ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ is a highlight as the pair bounce off each other in a laugh-out-loud flatulence frenzy. Matt Barton turns in an endearing comic performance as the most talkative Donkey of all time, full of brilliant banter and nicely cajoling Shrek into making a move on Fiona in the second act.

Vaughan Ashcroft delivers a scene-stealing and polished performance as pint-sized villain and ruthless ruler of Duloc Lord Farquaad. Spending much of the show on his knees, bringing this comically short character to life so effortlessly is no small feat.

Despite being a lead-led show, the ensemble shines throughout, particularly in big numbers like ‘Freak Flag’ (a nice little nod to ‘Les Mis’) where the huge cast variously bring to life a wonderfully random range of fairytale characters from the three blind mice and the big bad wolf to Humpty Dumpty, Pinocchio and Goldilocks’ three bears. Special mentions must go to Shelley Henry’s soulfully voiced lovesick dragon and Natalie Mee’s brilliantly executed Gingy, the gingerbread man. Such is the base of talent in LAOS that it is perhaps a shame that this show does not allow more members into the spotlight: an enviable problem for any company to have.

Never ogre-the-top or pantomimic, this energetic, colourful and vibrant production is a heart-warming affirmation of what should really matter to all of us: love, friendship and acceptance. Perfect family entertainment.

‘Shrek The Musical’ is playing at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre until 23rd June 2019