For the last 8 years, Packemin Productions has been well known for bringing the big scale shows that you’d usually only be able to see in the city to a more accesible location at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. With the exception of last year’s production of Miss Saigon, Packemin Prods always brings shows that all ages can enjoy, and this production of Shrek: The Musical is an example of this.
Based on the original 2001 Dreamworks movie, the musical was written in 2008 by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire. It melds the original comedy that the movie introduced to us and brings in amazing song and dance numbers that stick in your head the whole drive home from the theatre. Shrek (Jay Laga’aia of Jays Jungle) lives alone in his swamp when suddenly, decreed by Lord Farquaad of Duloc (Luke Joslin) he must share his swamp with all fairytale creatures who have been banished from the kingdom. He goes on a quest to remove the fairytale creatures off of his property, meeting a talking Donkey (Nat Jobe) along the way. He reaches Duloc and learns he must fulfill a quest to save the Princess Fiona (Mikayla Williams) from her Dragon-guarded (Nikole Music) tower in exchange for the deed of his swamp. The show then takes us on the journey through friendship, love and learning to not judge a book by its cover.
Co-directors Craig Stewart and Jessica Fallico have brought a fun and enjoyable production of the musical to the Riverside Theatre. With Shrek‘s target audience being primarily children, a sense of play and pantomime is felt through the production.
Laga’aia’s Shrek is stoic and solid. He brings the right amount of cheekiness that we have previously seen in the movie, but still has that hardened edge of growing up alone as an ogre. His voice has a slight rock feel to it, but would have loved to see a more physical connection between his body and singing.
Jobe injects a bundle of energy into the role of Donkey, bringing a huge smile to everyone’s face in the audience as soon as he makes his way onto the stage. He is able to make everyone laugh, especially the children we were sitting next to in the theatre. There are riffs that are usually in the songs that Donkey sings, but not always completely necessary, Jobe brings a simplicity to the singing of Donkey and makes it lovely to the ear of the audience member watching.
No-one is more suited to the role of Princess Fiona than Mikayla Williams. Her bright energy as well as her amazing voice is perfect for the role. She makes Fiona the right balance of fairytale princess who has also gone a bit stir crazy after 20 years of being locked away. Her standout moment is her Act 2 opening number “Morning Person”, where her voice is perfectly showcased, as well as her stamina – being able to dance a full tap/Fosse number and get straight back into singing again.
The standout of the show is definitely Luke Joslin as Lord Farquaad. His comedy chops are wonderfully presented, with hilarious ad-lib moments that peaks the interest of the adult audience members. Both of his musical numbers are both sung terrifically and injected with a hint of evil villian. Kudos to the 6ft3inch actor for spending 95% of the show on his knees!
Giving the Dragon a voice is Nikole Music, and what a voice she has. It was interesting to hear the song “Forever” in the place of “Donkey Pot Pie” (which is what is on the Original Broadway Soundtrack). I’m still unsure of how I feel about the song, but Music does sing the hell out of it.
The large ensemble that the show has create the community of “freaks” that Farquaad has banished from his “kingdom”. They each get to play notable fairytale creatures that everyone would know from stories and movies they would have seen as children. Major standouts from the ensemble include; Levi Burrows and Penny Stewart as Shrek’s parents, Nicholas Richard as Pinocchio, Dave Collins, Josh Ridge & Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward as the Three Little Pigs, Simon Ward as the Big Bad Wolf, and Sophy Carol as Gingy. Each of these actors went above and beyond with their characters, both vocally and physically.
Shrek‘s appeal shows in the dance numbers, choreographed by Sophie Gospodarczyk. While they are simple, with the amount of people on stage, it’s quite effective. This show doesn’t need crazy amounts of choreography to assist in telling the story. There is a moment of full-out dance during “Morning Person”, with a tap number directly followed by a Fosse-inspired Früg. The routine, choreographed by Peta Anderson, is perfectly executed by the dance ensemble and brings slight humour to the number, as it’s so different but so well done.
Peter Hayward, as per usual, musically directs a Packemin Show with the utmost professionalism. The harmonies are clear and not a flat note is heard. The orchestra not only plays the soundtrack to perfection, but they create a brand new character within the music. A shout-out to Hayward’s catching skills, as most character’s throw props or costume pieces down into his pit.
Josh Mcintosh has designed a set that not only gives off the sense of a fairytale world, but it also gives off the feeling of a twisted fairytale, with Shrek’s swamp and the pieces of set that move around. Sean Clarke’s lighting assists in this twisted fairytale, also interjecting lighting cues to assist in references made in the show.
The team of Audrey Currie and Karen Lamont-Barnett had a tough job for this show. Not only were they creating costumes and makeup designs for fairytale creatures, but they had to execute turning Fiona from a human to an ogre three times within the show, and in only a few moments time. Not to mention turning Laga’aia into the big, green ogre himself. Currie’s costumes give off a medieval vibe, not just the stock standard fairytale creature costume you’d see in the shops. Lamont-Barnett’s makeup and prosthetic design is out of this world. The only flaw I could see in this production is the colour of Young Shrek; he being a darker shade of green to the rest of the ogre’s in the show.
As a child of the late 90s/2000s, this movie brings a nostalgia that I love feeling. I, in fact, played Princess Fiona in our school concert in 2004! If you loved the original movie, if you love a good song and dance, and if you’ve got kids – this show is definitely for you!
I give this show 4/5 stars.
SHREK: THE MUSICAL (PACKEMIN PRODUCTIONS) – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 17 February 2018
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes (including interval)
On sale now from Riverside Theatres Parramatta: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/shrek-the-musical/
If you’ve seen the show, leave a comment down below letting me know what you thought! Honest opinions welcome!
– SD xx