REVIEW: Shrek The Musical, Sunderland Empire, until Sunday, November 22

The fairytale characters in Shrek The Musical.
The fairytale characters in Shrek The Musical.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away - the Land of Sunder - there was an invasion of fairytale characters, mythical creatures and a cabbage-coloured, wind-afflicted ogre.

This assembly of monsters, fairies and a vertically-challenged lord didst leave the fine folk, who had travelled from all points of the compass to gather for the spectacle, full of mirth and merriment.

Shrek (Dean Chisnall) and Princess Fiona (Bronte Barbe).

Shrek (Dean Chisnall) and Princess Fiona (Bronte Barbe).

Gaffaws of laughter could be heard leagues away as the eclectic band entertained with song and crafted words, and the travellers, young and old alike, left the empire with smiles etched across their features.

I am always sceptical about shows that have been popular in one genre, say film or TV, transferring to another – theatre, in this case. The track record is littered with spectacular failures.

So it was with a degree of trepidation that I ventured down to Sunderland to see Shrek The Musical.

Shrek was a monster success as an animated movie or four, so how would it fair on its trek to the stage?

The vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad, played by Gerard Carey.

The vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad, played by Gerard Carey.

Well, I’m pleased to report I was pleasantly surprised - it was extremely entertaining from curtain-up to spectacular finale.

The story will be largely familiar to anyone who has seen the first film, although there is more of a glimpse into the past of Shrek and Princess Fiona, both of whom we discover were abandoned in their formative years by their parents.

Fairytale folk are banished from the kingdom of Duloc by the diminutive Lord Farquaad and spill into Shrek’s rancid swamp.

In order to get his swamp back, Shrek, along with a talkative Donkey he meets along the way, must rescue Princess Fiona from her tower guarded by a ferocious dragon.

The scene in Shrek the Musical inspired by Les Miserables

The scene in Shrek the Musical inspired by Les Miserables

Lord Farquaad would then marry the princess, become King and everyone would live happily ever after. But not everything goes to plan as bi-polar Fiona’s night-time secret and Shrek’s love for her complicate matters.

A strong company gripped the audience from the early scenes as Pinocchio (Will Haswell), Sugar Plum Fairy (Nikki Bentley), Ugly Duckling (Amy Oxley) et al kept the gags coming.

But it really came to life thanks to the excellent and energetic performances from Dean Chisnall (a sensitive yet odorous Shrek), Bronte Barbe (a feisty Fiona) and Idriss Kargbo, who did a superb job filling the sizeable boots of Eddie Murphy as Donkey – he was just as cool, sassy, funny and that ass could move!

Yet Gerard Carey stole most of the show as the not-so-high and mighty Lord Farquaad, who, it turns out, is the son of Snow White’s Grumpy. Playing most of the role on his knees, he was hilarious, suitably camp and always angry – a fantastic portrayal, loved it!

Shrek (Dean Chisnall) rescues Princess Fiona (Bronte Barbe).

Shrek (Dean Chisnall) rescues Princess Fiona (Bronte Barbe).

A special shout-out, too, for Candace Furbert’s soulful voice as the Dragon, an impressive War-Horse-style puppet that provides a dynamic visual feast.

Shrek is a great, fun-filled family show. It has everything – magical sets, amazing costumes, a super orchestra, an amusing score and a botty-burp battle to die for.

You will laugh out loud and emerge with a broad grin on your face – guaranteed. The final rendition of I’m A Believer, which helped make the first movie famous, was quite simply genius.

Just as the DreamWorks film serves as a parody of other, mainly Disney, animations, so the show takes a gentle swipe at other musicals.

Those fantastic gravity-defying notes at the end of the first act of Wicked, the hapless knights and long-bearded prisoners borrowed from Spamalot, the African rhythms from Lion King and the marching mob waving a banner inspired by Les Miserables were among several I spotted. It was the icing on the cake for a musical theatre nerd such as I.

Shrek The Musical is at the Sunderland Empire at 7pm tomorrow until Saturday and 5pm Sunday, with matinees at 2pm on Saturday and 1pm on Sunday. To book, call the box office on 0844 8713022 or log on to http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/shrek-the-musical/sunderland-empire/