Tag Archives: Family Shows

Shrek the Musical – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

All singing, all dancing with amazing puppets and a wicked sense of humour. Shrek has grown into its own skin and was a wonderful way to fight off the rain-in-May blues.

I first saw Shrek during previews, almost exactly a year ago. It needed a lot cutting and some tightening up at that point, but has now matured into a real scorcher of a show. The set has improved immensely – now hugely impressive, with drawbridges springing up beneath the ogre’s feet, the dragon spurting what appears to be real fire and… Oh, the dragon! You just have to see it for yourself.

Most of the original cast have gone – Nigel Harman clutching his Olivier for his role as Lord Farquad (sigh… he was truly my favourite Eastender and the subject of many an adolescent fantasy…), Amanda Holden to concentrate on babies and BGT. Kimberly Walsh is a welcome addition as Princess Fiona (although Holden was great) – appearing to struggle a bit with the high notes but doing a far better job of ensuring that the slightly-potty side of Princess Fiona came across well. Kids don’t want to see their princesses as speechless beauties who dread getting dirty and have no opinions of their own! Hooray! Neil McDermot takes on the Farquad challenge with aplomb.

Landi Oshinowo as Dragon continues to steal the show. Her deep, soulful voice combined with a madcap character and the most impressive prop scene of the show (wait and see) are without doubt the highlight. ‘Forever’ is a wonderful song, and will see me looking up whether a London Cast Recording is available as soon as I put down my pen. My album is the Broadway version, without that song but with great tunes to generate an internal smile when stuck on a packed tube train or fighting one’s way through the rush hour footfall at Canary Wharf. They all look so serious in their suits and I’m listening to kids’ tunes… Hey, it makes me happy.

Surprise of the night has to go to Richard Blackwood. Last year he was noticeably uncomfortable, but is now well in his stride. He appears to have learned to enjoy himself in the role and has made it his own – no more obvious Eddie Murphy parodies, just a cheeky shameless Donkey. Wonderful stuff.

Get yourself along, it’s such a feel-good show. We got tickets at the last minute from TKTS on Leicester Square – £39.50 for third row of the Dress Circle (wonderful view), face value £65. I love that place. Happy weekend readers!

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Matilda the Musical – Cambridge Theatre

Image from cambridgetheatrelondon.org

Turn off the telly, hide that microwave meal – it’s time to forget the winter blues and resurrect your inner child.

As well as showcasing a great new piece of British musical theatre, the RSC is offering to remind you of those bedtime story squeals of delight – of pigtail-swinging, superglued trilbies and water jugs adorned with newts. It could only be Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Apparently you can also take along kids…

The secret of adapting a well loved children’s classic is almost certainly not to tinker with the original too much. The addition of music and dance adds an extra dimension to Dahl’s masterpiece, bringing it bang up to date from the opener as the obnoxious kids sing of how “My Mummy thinks I’m a miracle.” Having not read the novel for quite some years, I’d strain to notice what had been edited out (apart from my favourite phrase that Matilda’s parents thought of her as a scab, that they could’t wait to “pick off and flick away”) – but you can’t have everything, and the tone of the original is expertly captured.

The children are suitably flawed and naughty, the parents are brilliantly brash and the trunchbull is a thundering terror. The costumes are reminders of Quentin Blake’s illustrations, which were always inseparable from the Dahl stories. As the headmistress from hell Bertie Carvel manages, with his hunchback, slightly flicked back hand (and scarily feminine legs in a pleated gym skirt) to keep away from the drag queen and stick closer to the classic cartoons.

It is the combination, however, of the cheeky lyrics and music, the staging, choreography and styling that really makes this show a triumph (when you pick your jaw up from the floor after the alphabet song you’ll see what I mean). It may be a child-centred show, but this is an intelligent tale about intelligent people, just packaged in gift wrap for the under fives.

The kids are the centre of this production and do a great job of holding the stage. There was a star solo from Zachary Harris as Bruce Bogtrotter, and they all work together brilliantly with choreography that is impressive without having drilled the joy out of their performances. Dancing on the desks is reminiscent of a juvenile Spring Awakening, and there’s a sense of Spelling Bee too – two modern musicals that it would be hard to get enough of.

What is truly original is bringing the darkness of kids to the mainstream – this subversiveness hasn’t been seen much outside of the fringe, and I have my fingers crossed that it could wake up the mainstream West End to the possibilities of children’s musicals that are more than just sugar & spice. Dahl is the perfect starting point for this – whilst I haven’t seen it, Pasek & Paul have already adapted James and the Giant Peach. Could this open up the field for a London production? Watch this space…

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