If you consider yourself a bit of a music and/or theatre buff, then Shrek may be your ideal musical. Dave Skelton is the Musical Director for Shrek the Musical and explains that the show is filled with nods and references to other musicals, pop songs and music styles.

“It’s pretty much got everything you could think of jammed in there!” exclaimed Skelton.

Musical Director Dave Skelton

Unlike the film version, Shrek the Musical features an original score, with music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics and book by David Lindsay-Abaire, and vocal arrangements by Jeanine Tesori and Tim Weil.

“There’s a lot in there and I don’t know if I would catch it all in one viewing. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the score, so you sort of uncover these little things and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right’ and it is very clever,” explained Skelton.

I asked Skelton what are some of these nods and references that music theatre buffs should be looking out for.

“ ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ is a clear nod to ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ from RENT,” said Skelton.

“’What’s Up Duloc’ starts straight in Disneyland like ‘It’s A Small World’ kind of thing, exactly like that, and it is in the movie as well, but by the time you’ve got to the end of it it’s covered Wicked, all that kind of MGM writing of Busby Berkeley, that kind of background vocal … and there’s references to Chicago in the chorey, and a whole bunch of things like that.”

Skelton explained ‘Travel Song’ has a “great nod to Lion King in the middle of it” and also gives a nod to the old Bing Crosby and Bob Hope road movies, such as Road to Morocco and Road to Singapore, with an old-school style of shape to the melody.

Marcia Hines, in a guest appearance as the Dragon, delivers a big vocal number with references to Dreamgirls and the Motown classic ‘Rescue Me’.

“There’s a section in there that is very Frankie Valli and they sing the lyric ‘Unchain Your Heart’ which is a small nod to the Joe Cocker song of the same name.”

And there’s so much more!

Dave Skelton describes the ‘The Ballad Farquaad’ as having an element of “spaghetti western”, with a section that is “quite Glibert and Sullivan”.

‘Make a Move’ gives a nod to Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, mixed with some Barry White or Isaac Hayes.

There’s even a section of James Horner’s theme from Titanic in the transformation scene.

Some of the nods to other shows are in the staging and choreography. CATS gets a chorey nod.

Fans of Les Miserables will notice the nod to this classic musical during the song ‘Freak Flag’.

‘Morning Person’ has choreography reminiscent of Sweet Charity, but Skelton discovered there’s also music quotes from Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’.

“The arrival of Lord Farquaad in the swamp is taken tongue in cheek from John Williams score for Star Wars, particularly the Darth Vader related stuff,” added Skelton.

As Skelton explains, this is what Shrek the Musical is built upon – a lot of familiar music and pop culture references. Some are obvious, others are more obscure and subtle.

“If you know them, then you’ll like the little nods,” said Skelton.

Some of these references were pointed out to Dave Skelton and the cast of Shrek the Musical by the UK creative team during their early rehearsals. Others were written in the music “in the style of …”. Other references were simply discovered along the way.

While fans of the film version of Shrek may not be expecting an original score, Dave Skelton believes audiences will enjoy these new songs that carry the story forward and cover a wide genre of music styles.

“All these songs help the story and there’s such a variety of styles. There’s some big band stuff, there’s some folksy stuff, some theatre stuff which could’ve come out of Wicked, as well as just the nod to Wicked. So there’s a lot to keep the audience entertained.”

The one song that is included in the musical from the film version, is ‘I’m A Believer’, but even in this song Skelton discovered two little lines sung by Dragon and Donkey that are taken from the Donna Summer and Georgio Moroder song ‘I Feel Love’.

Unfortunately there is no definitive list of all these nods and references for astute audience members to play a game of spotto. Instead, Dave Skelton encourages music theatre buffs to comment online to help compile a list of what they picked up during the show.

As Skelton suggested, it’s probably going to be difficult to pick them all up in just one viewing!

Shrek the Musical is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District.

For more information and tickets: https://shrekthemusical.com.au/

Production images by Brian Geach.