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Review – Shrek, the Musical (UK Tour) – Empire Theatre, Liverpool

IT’S a decade since the DreamWorks stage musical first toured the UK following a hit West End run, and now it’s back in Liverpool for just a week of performances that are packing excited audiences into the Empire midway through another extensive tour.

With its book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, the show, as you would expect, fairly closely follows the main storyline of the film franchise and the book which inspired it. The shy and reclusive but lovable ogre Shrek sets out on a journey to help repatriate a group of fairytale characters who have been banished from their hometown by the evil Lord Farquaad. Shrek is accompanied on the way by his quirky, faithful companion Donkey, and along the way finds love with the princess Fiona, who turns out to be not quite as she first appears.

A native of Cornwall, Antony Lawrence is no more Scots than Mike Myers (did you know that Myers’ parents originally hailed from Liverpool?) but he carries the well remembered accent of Shrek extremely well and this, along with excellent prosthetic makeup and a genial performance, is very successful at recreating the animated character on stage.

In fact the entire central cast, under the watchful direction of Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, do a grand job of bringing the familiar ensemble recognisably to life. James Gillan is clearly having fun with his portrayal of the slimy and somewhat effete Farquaad, but the runaway stars of the show are Brandon Lee Sears as Donkey, and Strictly’s Joanne Clifton as Fiona. Clifton in particular shows that not only does she have the footwork, but she has the outstanding vocals and stage presence to go with it.

There’s an impressively large and well choreographed supporting cast too, with some brilliant cameos for various of the storybook characters, and standout among these are Cheree Richards as the dragon and the wicked witch (with an absolute belter of a singing voice) and Mark D’arcy who plays Pinocchio alongside 3 other roles.

The staging has a cinematic feel to it, with minimal use of physical sets and much of the scenery provided by animated projections onto a series of layered screens. This gives plenty of colour and sparkle to the show, whilst keeping the action moving seamlessly through scene changes.

The show is not without its pacing problems, and the first act has a tendency to linger, feeling rather longer than it is. After the interval however there is a real change of gear, so stick with it and you will be treated to a much more slick rollercoaster ride that culminates in a finale to get the audience on its feet cheering.

This is a wholesome piece of family entertainment that will especially delight children, whether they have seen the picture or not, and the story is one that sets out to offer hope and inspiration, and was ahead of its time in subtly tackling issues of self-image.

Shrek continues at the Liverpool Empire until 17th February where tickets are selling fast, and then continues touring the UK, with dates booking to August.

Star rating: 4 stars
Review by Nigel Smith

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