Friday, June 17, 2016

Performance Review: 'Shrek the Musical' - 14 June 2016

Shrek the Musical - 14 June 2016 Performance
Review by Jeremy Lee
Running at MBS Mastercard Theatres till 19 June

For fans of classic musical theatre like me, it seems that almost every show that comes to town nowadays is an adaptation from a movie. For the good folks at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, it’s clearly a winning formula, as the recent musical stagings of shows like Dirty Dancing, Beauty And The Best, Saturday Night Fever and Ghost prove - what better to provide instant audience recognition than a much-beloved movie?

The latest show in town is also one of those. Unless you are a pipsqueak or have been living in a monastery for the last decade, you would recognise Shrek as this ridiculously popular series of animated movies that redefined the genre. While watching an animated movie in days of yesteryear meant seeing a wholesome, child-friendly and very mainstream story of kind-hearted, classy princesses swept off their feet by handsome princes who slayed dragons, the first Shrek movie in 2001 revolutionised this, turning accepted narrative upside down and injecting knowing cynicism and parody into animated movies. It was DreamWorks Animation’s answer to the sanitised Disney behemoth and primed modern audiences into accepting a little reality into their animation diet.

The first Shrek movie scandalised and delighted audiences with a hero that is an ugly ogre and a beautiful princess who farts and (spoiler alert) may have more in common with the ogre than expected. It also had deliciously wicked send-ups of the fairy tales we have come to know and love, by introducing Pinocchio, the Gingerbread Man, 3 Blind Mice, etc. like you’ve never seen them before. A decline in quality was evident from the inevitable spin-off movies, but the box office and numbers proved that Shrek had become a classic in its own right.

And Shrek The Musical continues its tradition, with added musical numbers! Its plot is based on the very first Shrek movie - obviously the best one - that opened on Broadway in 2008 and garnered a Tony Award for Best Costume Design. One can see why it triumphed in that category, particularly the innovative costume for vertically-challenged villain Lord Farquaad (Christian Marriner) the source of much audience amusement. Marriner himself, in an underrated comic villain role, is a standout for his comic timing, commanding voice and strong back, the latter of which is needed as the 1.8m-tall actor spends almost the entire time on his knees to play the descendant of a dwarf.

The musical numbers by Jeanine Tesori are a treat, with the lyrics by David-Lindsay Abaire aptly adding to the sense of fun with their savage rhyming. While the movie heavily parodied the popular movies of its time (not only fairy tales but blockbusters like The Matrix), the musical thus makes subtle references to popular musicals like Wicked, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables - any musical theatre fan worth his salt will get them if they’re paying attention.

While admittedly most of the songs themselves are not memorable, they are always spectacles of musical staging. A standout is “I Know It’s Today”, when Princess Fiona (Lindsay Estelle Dunn) and her two younger selves sing about how their once-romantic dreams of being a fairytale princess rescued from incarceration in a tower have slowly been dashed over the years. Dunn is game for anything, with her strong, clear voice conveying her rather desperate fairytale princess aspirations, while turning ragged when growling in frustration at the lack of handsome prince suitors. Added points for daring to “fart” in front of an audience.

Poor Kyle Timson as Shrek doesn’t get to show off his fine features under the green make-up. However, what he does get to show off is his mastery of a Scottish accent and acting chops, especially as he gradually falls in love with the princess, but is hurt that she appears to think him incompatible with her. Sidekick Donkey (Jared Howelton) is the laugh riot of the show, just like in the movie, with the actor’s gregariousness contagious off-stage as well as onstage. He’s also part of the second standout scene of the show “Forever”, where the terrified critter runs away from the female Dragon (La'Nette Wallace) only for her to fall in love with him. Wallace’s powerful voice, unfortunately only heard off-stage in that scene, effortlessly convinces you that the Dragon (a feat of puppetry) is breaking out into a gospel number.

The fact that a dragon can fall in love with a donkey in the show is perhaps part of the reason why the original movie resonated with audiences who would have grown up seeingonly  good-looking people who “fit in” get their happy endings. The fairytale creatures are labelled as “freaks”by the vile Farquaad and banished to the swamp, the home of Shrek, the biggest freak of all. The plot device echoes the discrimination that is a sad reality of people who don’t fit in due to their appearance, gender, who they love, etc.

And in giving us an ogre as a romantic hero, a princess who isn’t as princess-sy as she looks, a dragon who just wants someone to love her, and a lord who, far from being a handsome prince is a bigot with daddy issues, it tells us that heroes can come in any shape and form, and one is a hero due to what’s in your heart, not in how you look.

The musical is even more relevant now than before, in the age of Donald Trump. However, go see it too if you just want an enjoyable fantasy to make your day.

Shrek the Musical runs till 19 June 2016. Check out the Events Page for details.

Check out our exclusive interviews with Shrek the Musical cast here! 

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