In one of my blogs a few weeks ago, I wrote about the upcoming cast change for Shrek the Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane: with Amanda Holden ending her run early due to pregnancy, the role of Princess Fiona was taken over by Kimberley Walsh. The Girls Aloud band member had previously spoken about her desire to take on the challenge of musical theatre and, as part of a TV documentary, performed ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables on the stage before an audience. I wrote then that, ‘after hearing her tackle a bit of musical theatre, the word that first sprang to mind was “wow”, and not the good kind.”
In response to that blog, I was invited to come along and see Walsh perform in Shrek, which is just where I was last night. I first saw Shrek during its preview period to review it for another site I write for and wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it. It was fun and had some good laugh-out-loud moments, but the general over-all feeling I went home with then was ‘panto on a bigger budget’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I love a bit of panto! Whether it has a place on a West End stage is another matter though.
This time around, I knew what I was getting with Shrek. In that first viewing, I may have gone in with expectations that were too high – at the end of the day, it’s a fun, family show that’s there to give the audience a good time and if you’re looking for the same kind of depth and emotional intensity that a show like Les Miserables or Phantom has, then this is not the place to find it.
Kimberley Walsh is clearly enjoying being a part of a West End show as she takes on the role with unbounded enthusiasm. She has a good sense of the feisty princess’ character and, although not vocally as strong as some of the other cast members, she has a pleasant voice.
Richard Blackwood, who plays Shrek’s talkative side-kick Donkey, was someone whose performance I didn’t like when I first saw the show. He seems to have settled into the role now however and this time, I quite liked his take on Donkey; there was less ‘playing to the audience’ and more focus on the character.
The best performance still comes from Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad though. He made me chuckle as much as he did the first time and his movements and facial expressions add to the hilarity of the character brilliantly. As funny as he is though, Harman also has a decent set of lungs on him, which is sometimes overshadowed by those little legs. Landi Oshinowo, who plays Humpty Dumpty and voices the Dragon is still the vocal star of the show however, with a simply spectacular singing voice and of course, Nigel Lindsay as the lovable green ogre is just fantastic.
One of the highlights for me was the Shrek ensemble, who shine in all their numbers. It gives you a taste of what the show could have been. Amanda Holden and Kimberley Walsh are entertaining and certainly crowd-pleasers, but as someone with a real love of musical theatre, I would like to see Fiona played by a true musical theatre actress. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the leads in a West End musical should have strong, stand-out voices that make you think, ‘Wow, THAT’S why they’re the lead…’ I haven’t seen Alice Fearn – who understudies the role of Fiona – perform in the role yet, but from hearing her voice, I can imagine just how tremendous the show could be. A strong singing voice adds legitimacy to a show and I think, in Shrek’s case, would help to dispel that ‘panto’ feel to it.
The celebrity castings of Holden and now Walsh are hardly hurting the show though. There was a good-sized audience in last night and it always surprises me to see just how many adults are there without kids. I brought my daughter along with me and she was laughing all the way through. She loved the 25 ft Dragon puppet, Donkey’s entrance, the burping and farting, the little cameo from Puss in Boots and the Les Mis reference that was snuck in on a flag, not to mention having Shrek run through our aisle during the wedding scene. She had great fun collecting all the confetti after the show too so she could throw it up in the air. She had a great time, as did so many others there. How can you argue with that?
Shrek the Musical may not be my preferred blend of tea, but it did make me smile. I may not love it, but I don’t hate it either and if you’re a fan of the film, you’ll certainly enjoy it. You have to take it for what it is. If you’re after a fun night out, then perhaps this is the musical for you.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
20th October 2011