The Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC), as stated on their official website, is a vibrant musical theatre course for young people aged eight to eighteen, providing an exciting mix of tuition and on-stage performance. Celebrating twenty-one years in its present format, recent productions have included Aladdin Jnr, Beauty And The Beast Jnr, and The Little Mermaid Jnr. In 2016, the chorus also took a five city, four-week tour across the United States.
For the company’s 2017 Winter Season, YABC chose to present Shrek Jr.
Written in 1990 by William Steig, Shrek was a popular picture book created especially for children. DreamWorks Animation quickly secured the rights, eventually turning the story into a computer – rendered motion picture for viewers of all ages. Thanks to its tongue-in-cheek humour, and in particular, by poking fun at Walt Disney’s extensive catalogue of fairy tale classics, Shrek became an instant hit worldwide.
Therefore, its loveable characters and quirky plot seemed like ideal source material for a large-scale musical adaptation. With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, from December 2008, Shrek The Musical ran for over twelve months at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Following that, it played major cities across the U.S.A., as well as a West End revamp in London.
Clocking in at seventy-five minutes in length, Shrek Jr is an amended variation suitable for younger audiences and attention spans. With its single-act format, in total, the show features twelve scenes and fifteen of the original songs.
Last week, YABC took to the boards with their version at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre.
Featuring ninety-one performers in total, the cast was divided into three specific groups, which were:
- the principal players;
- the ensemble; and
- the children’s ensemble
What must surely have been a thorough and intensive rehearsal period leading up to a marathon ten performance season, paid off in spades with a polished, professional outcome. It was a delight to see young people on stage clearly enjoying the moment, with the capacity audience (on the day I attended) responding and reacting to that enthusiasm as well.
Impressing me most about this colourful production, was that everyone involved gave one hundred percent to their part. Further still, there were no weak links, drops in concentration, or missed cues in evidence at all.
Overall, this was an outstanding showcase for some seriously-talented performers.
The five main leads were uniformly excellent, with strong singing, dancing and acting from everyone. It should also be noted, each actor had a solid grasp of characterization, interaction, and projection, as well as understanding the writers’ multi-layered use of pantomime. Meaning, the group’s collective comic timing and slick line delivery were always spot-on.
Of Shrek Jr’s countless stand-out moments, these included:
- Princess Fiona (played by Jasmine Arthur, accompanied by her younger selves), singing ‘I Know It’s Today’;
- Tristan Sicari’s Shrek, nicely transitioning over the course of the show, from scary ogre to smitten love interest.
- Lord Farquaad (Lachlan Wolters), giving his role the perfect degree of pompous irony.
- Kristen Robertson’s scene-stealing Dragon, belting ‘Forever’, with wry reference to that Dreamgirls diva, Jennifer Holliday; and,
- Aidan Khan’s hilarious Donkey, hamming it up with the Motown inspired tune, ‘Make A Move’.
Director, Robert Coates, and musical director, Andy Coates, kept the pace light, lively, and consistently entertaining throughout. Associate musical direction was from Megan Tiedemann.
Many of the songs featured extensive choreographic blocking (by Jacqui Green, and assistance from Alicia Nisi), in particular, with ‘Morning Person’ and ‘Freak Flag’, showing off the entire cast to maximum effect. (Daniel Ridolfi was the company’s dance captain.)
Jennifer McKenzie’s costumes were a visually-detailed and consistently-themed delight across the board. Of particular note, were her complex outfits designed and built for Lord Farquaad, Donkey and the Dragon. (Construction was credited to Jan Dixon, with wardrobe management by Sarah Donnelly and Sean Rentero).
Minimalist yet pleasing set design, and the smart move to keep it simple for easy transitions between scenes, also meant that individual cast members and ensembles could enter and exit the stage space with relative ease.
Lighting design gave solid support, mostly in the form of fade-ins and fade-outs.
Good sound was provided by front of stage microphones, as well as head-sets for principal cast members.
Nisi also did double duty as the stage manager, ensuring that proceedings ran with ease.
Up next, YABC continues its green theme with Wicked: The Untold Story Of The Witches Of Oz, running in January 2018 at the National Theatre in St. Kilda.
Photo credit: GW Photography