The start of the 2021 season for Queensland’s theatre has been unlike any before it. With new government regulations in place to ensure a Covid-safe environment, eager audiences are packing theatres (to 50% capacity) with enthusiasm – and masks. This added ‘layer’ of protection is an appropriate choice not only for public safety, but also for those with an affinity for ogres. Or onions.
After successful runs last year in Sydney and Melbourne, QPAC is opening its 2021 season with the highly anticipated Shrek the Musical. The musical’s appeal as a family-friendly show is both renowned and warranted. Based upon the beloved 2001 animated film ‘Shrek’ (which in turn is a loose adaptation of William Steig’s 1990 children’s book), Shrek the Musical explores the adventures of the eponymous green ogre and his companion Donkey on their quest to rescue the imprisoned Princess Fiona. The fanfare and legacy that Shrek has amounted over the past two decades makes QPAC’s decision to open its season with it an ingenious one.
Shrek the Musical first opened on Broadway in 2008 before transferring to the West End three years later. Since its initial run, it has accrued numerous successful touring productions throughout the United States and United Kingdom. Each iteration brings with it a sense of whimsy, joy, and sardonic wit. This latest Australian production is no exception.
Boasting an accomplished cast of Australian stage and screen, Shrek the Musical evokes a sense of childhood reverence. Many children pretend to be gallant knights and beautiful princesses at play; Shrek gives each actor an opportunity to live out their youthful fantasies. In a characteristically reverse-fairy tale kind of way, of course.
Ben Mingay (under several layers of makeup and prosthetics) oozes charisma as the Scottish ogre himself. He masterfully reverberates traits of the beloved character while bringing his own semblance of dignity to the role. The relationship Shrek forms with his ‘noble steed’ Donkey (Nat Jobe) throughout the performance is natural and well-paced. Their shared skill for comedic timing brings a humorous realism to the unlikely relationship.
Lucy Durack similarly graces the stage with fervent excitement as the multilayered Princess Fiona. Having stepped into the shoes of other beloved film-to-stage characters such as Glinda the Good Witch and Elle Woods (in the Australian tours of Wicked and Legally Blonde respectively), Durack personifies Fiona as fanciful, yet grounded. Her introductory song, ‘I Know It’s Today’ (sung with younger versions of Fiona performed by Freya Callahan and Annie Chiswell respectively), perfectly illustrates the production’s thematic core of wanting to belong.
Todd McKenny trades his signature sashays for another form of physicality – performing the villainous Lord Farquaad on his knees for majority of the show. Effortlessly cool and calculating, McKenny revels in the story’s ludicrous humour to establish Farquaad as a villain audiences cannot help but love. The musical’s newly-introduced backstory for the short-statured aristocrat is equal parts hilarious and lunacy (and will dare not be spoiled here).
Rounding out the headlined performances is music icon Marcia Hines as The Dragon. Hines remains unseen for majority of the performance, as her character suffuses the stage. Hines’ smooth, soulful vocals flow naturally with The Dragon’s (skilfully puppeteered by members of the ensemble) movements. Finally emerging for the finale ‘I’m a Believer’, Hines is greeted by thunderous applause – a true testament to the power of her dulcet tones.
The ensemble cast of Shrek the Musical each bring a quintessential eagerness to their performances. With many playing dual roles (or more), they expertly craft detailed personalities for each character. Caleb Vines and Manon Gunderson-Briggs are particular standouts as they revel in bringing fan-favourites Pinocchio and Gingy to the stage. Akin to the fairy tale creatures and Duloc residents they perform, the ensemble band together to amass a sense of comedic frivolity.
Under the watchful eyes of (resident and musical) directors Luke Joslin and Dave Skelton, Shrek the Musical transposes the ogre’s iconic cinematic tale to the stage. Nods to various musicals are filtered throughout the course of the performance (Gypsy, The Lion King, Wicked, and Les Miserables among others). This not only updates the musical from its early-21st century source material, but also adds an additional layer of meta-pop culture ‘Shrek’ has become synonymous for.
Lighting and a simplistic, yet well-crafted, set design provide the show with a grandiose pantomime feel. The musical pays homage to its featured fairy tales through many of its scene transitions – even beginning the show with the literal opening of a book. Such nods to the art of storytelling are found all throughout Shrek the Musical, making it a joyful experience for families to share.
It appears even twenty years after the world was introduced to the lovable green ogre on the big screen, audiences still cannot get enough of Shrek. Covid restrictions have led theatres to alter the way the audience can experience the performing arts. However, Shrek the Musical proves that audiences, adults and children alike, are eager to experience live theatre in all its glory. And what a way to kick off the season!
If you are looking for family-friendly entertainment during the final weeks of the school holidays, Shrek the Musical is sure to deliver. You will go for the family-fun but will stay for ogre-standing production.
“That’ll do, Donkey. That’ll do.”
Shrek the Musical is currently playing at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, Brisbane.
For tickets and more information, visit https://www.qpac.com.au/event/shrek_21/