Cast from Shrek the Musical.

For those who may expect to head along to the Addison Theatre at Baycourt for an up-scaled pantomime style show, you will be beyond stunned.

Shrek the musical is spectacular and more fabulous than you could possibly imagine. The stage craft and production is superb, and it’s a pleasure to see the theatre fully utilised with quality set design, lighting and sound elevating this show into something so breath taking and memorable.

Matt Henderson is Shrek, the lonely big green ogre, ultimately winning the princess Fiona, who’s not exactly the fairest of them all. This endearing twist on the traditional fairy tale is well-known as Shrek the musical stems from the 2001 DreamWorks film.

On stage, however, we learn more about the backstory of Shrek and Fiona, as they slip through the covers of a giant book to introduce us to their younger selves, played by Zak Weatherley and Jade Newton respectively.

As the story begins to unfold, the message of learning to love one's self rings clearly through. And learning to love others for who they are and not the colour of their skin, in this case, green.

Fiona is fun and feisty, if not a little kooky. The tower scene where the three Fiona’s sing ‘I Know It’s Today’ is exceptional, - the lighting, design, and the singing.

As already mentioned, young Fiona is played by the talented Jade Newton who also performs as a spunky Tinkerbell.

Ashley Hocking plays the teenage Fiona as well as the Blue Fairy; and the grown up Fiona is played by Hannah Spedding who smashes the role, tap-dancing with snazzy rats while bringing alive the sense of big sumptuous and showy theatre.

During “Morning Person,” Hannah’s skill at musical comedy again comes to the fore, as she sings enthusiastically of the joys of a new day whilst accidentally ripping the antlers off a deer.

You really must go see what Ben Hambling and his team have done with the set design to fully appreciate the immense detail and work that’s gone in to making every single scene so magical.

It’s truly a masterpiece, and has provided opportunity and a great challenge for creativity from such talented people. Having worked on stage musicals myself before, it’s certainly mind-blowing to see the stunning results from the hours of work that have gone in.

The lighting is also top-notch, with what seems like real lava bubbling across the stage, and for those who love ‘depth of field’ – the lighting adds to the set design, creating the sense of large forest floors and high castles.

Prosthetic makeup can be challenging, but the highly-proficient Hannah Abbot and her team have enabled the actors to merge themselves into their new appearances. How did they transform Fiona so quickly? It’s certainly makeup magic at its best.

The lavish costumes only enhance the splendid feel of this show. Each feature from Shrek’s overhanging belly, to the Snow Queen’s tiara and Evil StepMother’s cloak – the collection of characters all have their own detailed costume, making it a fascinating distraction and pleasure to follow their individual antics on stage during their group scenes and dances.

The brilliant backstage work is of course there to support and help tell the story, and against this backdrop, the performers excel, with highly polished song, dancing and acting. All the fairy tale characters we love populate the stage, led by Pinocchio played by Sarah Coleman.

It’s possible that Pinocchio’s nose steals a scene or two. The Ugly Duckling’s feathered posterior, the Three Little Pigs, and the Big Bad Wolf are also great scene stealers.

Towards the end of the show, some of the fairy tale characters have their own one or two lines to sing, and you realise this isn’t just a chorus of good singers – these are all superb solo singers in their own right. It’s a real treat to spot Fletcher Oxford, Mandy Rowe, Rachael Somerville and others.

Pinochhio explains to Shrek that they’ve all been banished by Lord Farquaad from the Kingdom of Duloc, and that Shrek is next on the list for having to move out of his home - a grungy swamp.

Shrek sets out to meet the prince and fight, but is talked into first rescuing Princess Fiona from the tower surrounded by bubbling lava and guarded by a dragon.

During their adventure, accompanied by a sassy Donkey played by George Hiku, Fiona and Shrek find their have a certain chemistry. Their glowering friction is transformed into a dewy-eyed romance while they belch and fart their way through a love scene. It’s truly happiness at its blissful best.

Their goofy charming song ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ is reminiscent of ‘Anything You Can Do’ from Annie Get Your Gun, and is hilarious, with Donkey acting as referee.

George manages to strike the right balance between being annoying and loyal in his performance as Donkey, giving the audience some fun moments.

Ashleen Fahy is the voice of Dragon, singing “Forever’, and hers is one of the stand out performances of the show.

The Dragon itself is an incredibly ambitious creation, built from carbon fibre, fibreglass, pool noodles and yoga mat foam by Ben Hambling. I understand it took more than 200 hours to design and construct; and it moves and appears to breathe thanks to the brilliant puppetry.

What can be said about pint-sized Lord Farquaad, played so hilariously by Brendon Weatherley? He is fabulously funny, petulantly flicking his long locks; his royal cape cleverly disguising the fact that he is doing the whole show on his knees.

Fake legs hang down, as he storms across the stage with the proud bearing of a bustling peacock. He manages to dance, run, and climb. When he sings the ‘Ballad of Farquaad’ and makes his proclamations, he creates more of those open-mouthed laugh gasping moments in the show, where we are transported to another level.

The voice, the humour and the singing - everything is far beyond what you would have come along expecting to see and hear.

I love live orchestra for musicals, and was instantly transported back to the days when Bob Addison used to conduct us for Annie and other shows we held at Baycourt during the 80’s.

It’s a delight to see musical director Murray Mason at the helm, with a polished orchestra of 15 down in the pit. They were excellent and tight, which is not surprising with their experience and skills.

When I moved back to Tauranga from Wellington, I was expecting to see relatively good productions.

I certainly didn’t expect to see far better productions here than what I’d experienced in the larger NZ cities. I’m so excited about Stage Right Trust and their vision. Toni Henderson, Laura Mansell and Natalie Wright should feel really proud of their work.

We have such superb talent here in Tauranga creating such wonderful shows like this, it’s really fantastic to see this happening here.

Shrek the Musical is on at Baycourt from September 22 -29.


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