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Shrek the Musical

The new London production of the Broadway musical shines much brighter than before. logo
Amanda Holden, Nigel Lindsay, and Richard Blackwood
in Shrek the Musical
(© Helen Maybanks)
While most theatergoers don't think of New York as just another try-out town, a year-plus run in the Big Apple has given the creators of Broadway's Shrek the Musical, now debuting in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, time to transform the show into a bright, almost spanking-new creation that will undoubtedly have a more rewarding life here and elsewhere.

It appears that both original director Jason Moore and original choreographer Josh Prince looked at what they had, learned what needed to be done to make it better, and did it -- aided in no small part by the work of new co-director Rob Ashford.

Adapted from William Steig's children's story and the subsequent DreamWorks movies, the musical tells the story of Shrek (Nigel Lindsay) -- an ogre almost as green as Elphaba in Wicked and just as much of an outcast -- who takes on the assignment of rescuing Princess Fiona (Amanda Holden) from a dragon and accompanying her to the royal home of her intended groom, the quite short Lord Farquaad (Nigel Harman).

While much of the show is devoted to the burgeoning Shrek-Fiona love affair, the message of the piece, which will resonate with children of all ages, is not so much that it isn't easy being green, but that the important lesson of accepting oneself is never an unwelcome one.

In the pond-hop, a couple of the drearier numbers composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist-librettist David Lindsay-Abaire scraped up for the earlier incarnation have been excised and a few new ones substituted, including "Welcome to Duloc" with music by Mike Himelstein and words by Eric Darnell.

The second act Shrek-Fiona duet, "I Think I Got You Beat," - an audience favorite with its celebration of flatulence and belching - remain, as does Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer," which is still used as a curtain-call addition.

But some of the show's bigger numbers, including Fiona's "Morning Person" and "Make a Move" -- with a phalanx of tuxedoed dancers portraying soigne rats -- appear to have been accorded the Ashford touch and consequently liven up the atmosphere. There also seem to be less of the other exiled fairy-tale figures -- which doesn't register as a huge loss since their "Freak Flag" ditty stays in the mix.

There's been no shortage of joke-tweaking for the English audience, either. The one that goes "I took a left at William and Kate's castle" might strike sophisticated showgoers as groan-worthy, but many ticket buyers guffaw at the gag.

The cast members are certainly in the mood to earn laughs from start to end, notably Lindsay in his mushroom-eared guise, Holden in her gorgeous green gown (designed, as are all the sets and costumes, by Tim Hatley), Harmon, who performs almost throughout on his knees, and Richard Blackwood as the delightfully dizzy Donkey. They're all triple threats at their single best.

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