Bob Eveleigh: Highly entertaining school musicals are often missed by Port Elizabeth theatregoers simply because they are, well, school productions.
Anyone who has missed this local premiere of this abridged Junior version of a Broadway hit, Shrek Jr, should kick themselves.
It is never easy to transfer comic strip and animated characters to the stage successfully but director Janine Maughan-Brown, having cut her directing teeth co-handling the Grey-Collegiate Junior Peter Pan with Siobhan Day two years ago to joint Woodlands Dairy Best Director and Primary School Show of the Year honours, here takes the bit between her teeth and sails solo with an enthusiastic young cast with great success.
Okay, she has Jeanette Neveling, in her years before retirement at Collegiate, also a past Showtime Show of the Year winner with various primary school musicals, by her side to deal with the large cast on the postage stamp stage at the school, which is another great decision.
For the uninitiated – if there are any around – Shrek is an ogre who finds his swamp domain invaded by fairy tale characters, banished by the villainous Lord Farquaad.
Really upset, Shrek determines to sort matters out and, accompanied by a talkative donkey, journeys to confront Farquaad in his kingdom of Duloc but, before his request will be answered, he is given the task of rescuing the imprisoned Princess Fiona whom the ruler intends to wed on the way to usurping the throne.
But, rescue accomplished, the tale takes unexpected twists and turns …
Although always funnily essentially turning the fairy tale genre on its head, Shrek: The Musical Jr points a couple of genuine morals: Don’t judge people before you know them and you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy true happiness in life.
The movie used popular songs, but this version, with script and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abraire and music by Jeanine Tesori, has a score with the usual mix of production numbers, situation songs and ballads which, while tuneful, will only be known to those theatregoers, parents and children who saw the Alexander Road High School full-length version.
They are all. however, given top-class song and dance airing by a large, exuberant cast with an outstanding portrayal of Shrek by the excellently made-up Ben Wessels, who, although quietly spoken, when roused, will spring into action, with terrific acting and singling ability which he manages to put across in fine fashion.
Even better than his performance is that by Mignonne Coley, imported, with a few other young girls, from Collegiate Junior, who won best actress in a musical honours as Wendy in Peter Pan, opposite Ben as Princess Fiona, the girl Shrek rescues, who displays a tremendous singing voice, acting talent and sheer sense of fun to match the Wessels ire and befuddlement.
This young actress shows off a fine singing voice and a general performing ability which is sheer joy to witness as Fiona and Shrek virtually hold the second half of this hour-long show together with delightful chemistry.
Joel Offerman, in a marvellous donkey costume and make-up, has the unenviable task of following Eddie Murphy’s movie voicing of the talkative animal onto the live stage, but adds tremendously to the physical and verbal comedy, also leading the rousing finale, I’m a Believer, well.
The fourth lead, the vertically challenged Farquaad (his lack of stature achieved in similar manner to the dwarfs in Pemads Snow White panto and the Alex version), is also well portrayed by Johan Coetzee, with an hilarious vocal delivery.
Despite his mini-height, he still achieves domination of the stage (even appearing cleverly on horseback to claim his bride from Shrek.
Space limitations do not allow of mention of all the other players in the many supporting roles who are not as important to the show as in the full version but the flock of fairytalers are well led by a bouncy Pinocchio in Micah Wessels and James Coley as the Ginger Bread Man, who almost loses his buttons and neck while being interrogated by Lord Farquaad.
And how can one forget the Dragon (Tyla Puttergill), and her elderly backing quartet with her song, Forever, who, after being conquered by Shrek, becomes his ally……
The entire beautifully costumed and made-up company in this inversion of what one normally regards as a “fairy tale”, in fact, performs the material to a fare-thee-well, under the guidance of Janine Maughan-Brown and Jeanette Neveling, while musical and vocal director Taryn Rist, who, along with sound man Sean Cornell, must be complimented on the clarity of the vocals
I always marvel at the time these schoolteachers must put in with their young charges to attain this level of word-perfect performance, while the children obviously enjoy their time on-stage.
The musical score is at its best in numbers like the opening Big Bright Beautiful World (which title belies its lyrics in reference to Shrek!), Freak Flag, in which the Fairytalers express their ire, the Fiona/Shrek duet, I Got You Beat (with its rather naughty vocal effects!) and Neil Diamond’s interpolated I’m a Believer, a Shrek favourite from the original movie.
Any discussion of the songs would not be complete without mention of the fairy tale-related I Know It’s Today, in which the imprisoned Fiona, always anticipating rescue, is introduced to the audience while in confinement, at young (Chiara Recchia), teenage (Jodie Herman) and adult (Mignonne Coley) ages. All three girls have incredible singing voices which allows the song’s lyrics to do all the real work,
All of them vocalise excellently in what is a really cleverly created and performed sequence.
But ask anyone who has already seen the show what impressed them most and they will surely answer: the spot-on (always reminiscent of the movie) colourful costuming by a large team of seamstresses, the well-changed sets, under the guidance of Jenny Maltby, and painted by her and Jeanette Neveling, and the make-up team led by the experienced Michelle Annear, plus the props by Monieque Williams.
I cannot, in many years of school showgoing in PE, recall a genuine solo Grey Junior production so this show seems to be an auspicious debut by the school.
In its review of the West End production, the Sunday Telegraph called the show “Shrektacular” and this one, with its tremendous pair of male/female leads, outstanding costuming and make-up, gets very close to that description.
Well done, Grey Junior, I look forward to more productions from you in future years.
Article source: https://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=44905