Laura Murphy as Princessant Fiona.

Laura Murphy as Princessant Fiona.

There’s a new ogre in Canberra… but enough about politics. Free-Rain’s electric production of Shrek the Musical is slick, heartfelt, and a great excuse to extricate yourself from your own personal swamp for a night.

The musical, with score by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, has become a popular choice for community theatre companies, owing to its pop culture appeal, its range of characters available for young performers, and the simple message of acceptance it conveys. If staged well, the energy and tongue-in-cheek humour of the piece shine through. The text is somewhat predictable, but a pleasant and meaningful jaunt all the same. Free-Rain Theatre Company’s rendition took an initially sluggish audience on a wild ride, offeringsome good laughs and interspersed moments of tenderness.

The standout performance came from Laura Murphy as Princess Fiona – a true triple threat, Murphy layered mature characterisation on top of excellent comic timing and an enviable Broadway belt. Max Gambale poured his heart out onstage as Shrek, delivering a raw and captivatingperformance, and Donkey (Joel Hutchings) carefullynavigated the difficulties of paying tribute to the character’s cartoon origins, while giving the noble steed a unique personality and motivation.

Vocal work was of an excellent quality, with the capable principal performers backed up by a well-rehearsed ensembleand ably led by Katrina Tang and Ian McLean. “I Know It’s Today” and “Who I’d Be” were particular highlights, with imaginative interpretations sung in precise harmony. Some other songs did not hit with quite the same impact, and the occasional clumsy timing was the only other minor detractor.Michelle Heine’s choreography was inspired, and well-suited to the cast.

Shrek’s diverse army of fairytale creatures was also supported by solid costume design and a balanced orchestral backing, which filled out the fantastical land. The set by Mark Clark, with projections designed byChris Anderson, was versatile and mostly made good use of the space to create the kingdom of Duloc and surrounding regions. Of note, the Dragon’s Keep sequence was dark and brooding, and was augmented by an impressive animatronic dragon (voiced by Tegan Braithwaite). The show’s design was stylistically consistent throughout, and considered use of lighting by Linda Buck bolstered the emotional arc of the production. Set changes were fast and seamless.

Free-Rain has done productive work in explicitly targeting Canberra talent to fill out the cast of Shrek, and the amount of skill on display was a welcome acknowledgement of the calibre of performer at large in the Canberra region. The company has previously recruited talent from further afield, and so it was uplifting to see such a strong cast and crew sourced from the local theatrical community.

Overall, the various elements of the production are guided into place by director Ylaria Rogers, and they coalesce into a production that really delivers what it sets out to. Rogers is a seasoned theatre practitioner, and she has cultivated an ensemble of fully-fledged and eclectic characters. The created world is believable, the performances fresh, and the narrative told sensitively and with charm. Shrek the Musical is a great activity for the school holidays, either for those with young people in their lives or for those looking to reconnect with the world of make-believe.

Shrek the Musical runs at The Q, Queanbeyan, until Sunday the 14th of October.

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