Shrek: The Musical is based on the 2001 film Shrek that stars Mike Myers as Shrek, a green ogre with ears like hearing trumpets who enjoys a solitary life in a swamp, and Eddie Murphy, a hyperactive and busybody talking donkey who is found, rescued, and befriended by Shrek. The book and lyrics are by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote Rabbit Holeand High Fidelity, which HMC produced last year) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Violet).
A very creative and experienced team is leading HMC’s current production, including direction by Lauren Scarfe, music direction by Ben and Mark Stefanoff, choreography by Georgina Lumb, and production management by Scott Whellum. In their skilled hands this production oozes slickness.
The action of the story follows Shrek (played by Jay Mancuso) as he tries to restore order to his peaceful existence after being overrun by a bevy of fairy tale creature who have been exiled to his swamp by Lord Farquaad of Duloc (Lachlan Washusen). Farquaad is despot with many shortcomings. The long and the short of it is … well … he’s not very tall!
Shrek treks off to Duloc to have it out with Farquaad and is joined by Donkey (Sean Wright) on the way. When they meet, Farquaad is hugely impressed by Shrek’s imposing size and commissions him to rescue Princess Fiona (Sarah Whalen) from a keep so that he can marry her. In return Farquaad will gift ownership of the swamp to Shrek, but it all doesn’t quite go to plan. Shrek and Fiona fall in love but keep their feelings from each other, only to be united in the nick of time when Shrek foils the wedding and declares his love. The locals, led by Pinocchio (Claire Birbeck) are overjoyed and loudly protest against Farquaad, just as Donkey arrives with the local fire breathing dragon (sung by Stacey Kennedy) to consign Farquaad to the fiery pits of hell. Shrek and Fiona are now free to marry, which they do, and everyone lives happily ever after as you’d expect in a family-friendly musical!
The key to making a piece like Shrek: The Musical really work is having not some but all the following: consistent high energy and rapidity of action, bright and colourful costumes, uncomplicated choreography that can be positively executed by all cast members, comic-book style sets, exaggerated stage properties, strong lighting that is never subtle, a melodious musical ensemble accompanying strong vocals, and, above all, well-crafted characterisations. HMC’s production has all of that.
The singing is generally a highlight throughout the show (including the ‘unseen’ voice behind the exploding Bluebird, which was a comic highlight!). Mancuso and Whalen sing wonderful solos and even better duets, and then mercilessly send themselves up with a side-splitting musical display of ‘intestinal sounds’ in I Think I Got You Beat. Whalen shows her abundant comedic talents in Morning Person.
Wright channels Eddie Murphy (perhaps a bit too much?) in an out-and-out high-energy high-comedy display – his conviction to the role is second to none.
Washusen, in his first major role in a musical, relishes playing the diminutive Lord Farquaad. His costume is a hoot, and he inhabits it, and his knees are probably now ruined forever! (Congratulations to Lumb for the simple but comically effective choreography.) Washusen plays the role within his (ample) capabilities and could define his character even more sharply with further exaggeration of his character.
In the supporting roles, Birbeck is excellent as Pinocchio, and she uses the growing nose to great effect. Cory Ferguson and Olive Kennedy put in charming performances as younger versions of Fiona, and their vocal trio I Know It’s Today with older Fiona is quite affecting.
Mark Stefanoff’s band is well balanced, big hearted and well disciplined. Orchestras in community theatre musicals sometimes take time to hit their straps, but not this outfit. They were in tune and on the mark (!) from the get-go. They never overshadowed the singers, and the tempi were spot on. (Well done Jack Barton on the drum kit.) Martin Gilbert’s empathetic and competent sound operation was authoritative.
Denham Haynes’ scenic projections have an innocent comic book feel to them that help set the mood. Tim Bate’s lighting plot is simple and straight forward, but makes clear statements when needed, such as in the highly effective lava field scene.
Elisa England and Lauren Scarfe’s costume plot hits all the right notes: its bold, colourful, lavish when needed, and the cast clearly enjoyed wearing them. Scarfe’s set design is simplicity itself. Just enough of what’s needed, and no more.
They rarely get mentioned in community theatre reviews, but a big shout out to the stage crew. Gus Smith, Ashley Borgeest and John McTier under stage manager Anthea “Harold” Browne’s direction (well, that’s how the program refers to her!) are slick! Scenic changes never ever got in the way of anything. Full marks.
HMC’s production of Shrek: The Musical was almost de-railed by COVID, with many of the scheduled performances being cancelled. It is an absolute credit to the company’s conviction, collective talent, desire and hard work that they kept it together and produced such a crowd-pleasing show.