York Stage School’s Shrek The Musical – Grand Opera House York

promotional shrek the musical poster featuring pinnochio holding hands up and looking shocked
Image Credits: York Stage Musicals

[GIFTED] Press tickets #gifted by Grand Opera House York in exchange for review. York Stage Musicals’ production of Shrek The Musical runs until 21st September 2019. For more information and to book your own tickets, head to this page.

Expectations: 3/5

Reality: 3.5/5

Chronic Illness-Friendly: 5/5

Having never seen Shrek The Musical or any work by York Stage Musicals beforehand, I was unsure what to expect of this one as I took my seat in the audience. This year I’ve seen many musical adaptations of iconic films that have completely fallen short, but I had faith that this would be the show that turned things around.

In reality, my opinions of the production were mixed, and chopped and changed as the show progressed. Whilst there were uneven moments, with the beginning of the show being a little wobbly, by the time the Fairy Tale Creatures boldly marched on stage in their exquisite fairy finery and belted out Story Of My Life, I felt like I was a little safer to relax and enjoy the show.

cast headshit of princess fiona, wearing crown and green gown, red hair in a long plait
Image Credits: York Stage Musicals

Each and every performer on the stage held their own, doing justice to the quirky and whimsical nature of the characters from the well-loved movie. For me, Sam Rippon as Pinocchio was an unsung hero, and Alicia Roberts’ Gingey impression and puppetry was spot-on. Additionally, each of the three Fionas portrayed at various points in her life (Lilly Beckett, Lily Golden, Jacqueline Bell) really stole the show. The scene of I Know It’s Today, where each Fiona growing up shares her anguish as the days pass by, and then joins with the others to harmonise, was an unexpectedly touching moment that really added another dimension to the overall light-hearted comedy of the rest of the performance.

Whilst the singing and acting were on point, you all know me: I’m here for the dance, and I’m always a little bit gutted when dancing comes across as the throwaway of the triple-threat package. Although many of the ensemble performances unfortunately lacked polish and precision, I did absolutely love and appreciate Damien Poole/ Lesley Hill’s choreography: simple, effective, and classic musical theatre. I also really enjoyed the tap-dancing element of the show, where each and every performer really did commit and shine. Who’s to say the Pied Piper’s Rats couldn’t make it on Broadway?

And we must talk about the creative elements of the show, because a serious hat off is owed to the stage management and backstage team. The costuming was absolutely incredible: even when moments of the performance fell a little flat, I can’t have been the only audience member to be too bedazzled by the costumes to take much notice. Each and every costuming choice was whimsical, characteristic and absolutely spot-on: designed to enchant kids and adults alike.

production image of donkey cowering away from large dragon puppet looking down at him
Image Credits: York Stage Musicals

Likewise, the set design and props, under Daniel Stephenson’s management, were both impeccably utilised, creating a genuinely immersive environment on stage that really enhanced the story. I was particularly taken by surprise by the incredible dragon puppetry, not least for the undoubtedly sassy black woman characterisms that were somehow portrayed by the team.

And that brings me nicely to another element of Shrek the Musical that I absolutely adored: the homage to other iconic musicals all the way through. From Lord Farquaad’s Defying Gravity moment to Dragon’s Dreamgirls mic drop moment and the 42nd Street-inspired dance break, being able to recognise and appreciate these somewhat subtle nods to musical theatre history gave me the loveliest warm glowy feeling. And let’s be honest, the deeply pretentious stagey part of me thrived on knowing that these things would have gone straight over the majority of audience members’ heads. I’m not even sorry.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by York Stage Musicals’ production of Shrek the Musical, and it was evident just how much hard work and dedication must have gone into bringing such a spectacle together. The entire cast and creative team clearly shared a special bond, and as the finale rolled around, seeing each and every performer on that stage having the time of their life meant the show ended on a high. There are so many elements of the musical that make it genuinely enjoyable for all the family: an even-split of slapstick comedy for the little ones, and edgier humour for the grown-ups too. I’m so pleased to say that my expectations were exceeded, and I’m sure the whole team will enjoy the successful run they surely deserve.

Chronic Illness-Friendly Review

It’s not often I get to write a full-marks chronic illness-friendly review, but this production really was a good shout for those who struggle with sensory overload. Throughout the entire production, no strobing or extreme lighting effects were used, there were no shock tactics, and aside from dialogue and songs becoming a little shout-y at times, sound levels weren’t particularly intrusive either.

cast headshot of donkey, in fur suit with large ears, holding up hooves . and pulling a sassy face
Image Credits: York Stage Musicals

Even in moments where intense special effects could have been utilised, such as during Dragon’s entrances, effects were kept to a minimum: lights flickered and rotated, effectively creating atmosphere, but not in a debilitating way. I imagine this was a deliberate decision by the creative team in order to ensure the scenes weren’t too frightening for the littler audience members, but doing so had positive implications for those sensitive to this kind of stimuli too.

Content-wise, there was a slightly trivialising remark in the script about being bipolar, as if it were a quirky personality trait rather than a serious mental illness, and obviously there was humour around Lord Farquaad’s short stature, excellently communicated by Joe Wawrzyniak.

Interestingly (and bear with me on this one, because it might be a bit of a stretch even for me to draw a comparison here), there were many elements of Princess Fiona’s former story that could perhaps strike a chord with chronically ill audience members: being locked away in a tower, stuck in one room because of something they have no control over, and dreaming of the day they could explore the outside world again. And if a giant green ogre and his talking donkey companion were the key to unlocking that situation for everybody, I think it’s something we could all get on board with, right?

[GIFTED] Press tickets #gifted by Grand Opera House York in exchange for review. York Stage Musicals’ production of Shrek The Musical runs until 21st September 2019. For more information and to book your own tickets, head to this page.

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