The Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre has brought the old Scott Theatre on the Adelaide University campus to bright new life, transforming its stage into a swamp world befitting the arrival of that loveable Scottish ogre named Shrek.

The bizarre cultural phenomenon of Shrek began as the picture book Shrek! by William Steig. This was popularised by DreamWorks Animation’s film series. Then, in 2008, the story was adapted into a musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. After a two-year run on Broadway, the fantasy comedy musical has since been presented on the West End and has toured around the globe, including an Australian tour in 2020.

Shrek the Musical. Photo: Greg Balcombe / supplied

This staging of Shrek the Musical features the Elder Conservatorium’s first and second-year Bachelor of Music Theatre students, and the show shines with sleek production values and a performance quality reaching right up there to professional standards. ​​The show is directed  by Erin James, choreographed by Joseph Simons, and performed with music director Paul Sinkinson and an orchestra composed of South Australian industry professionals. This elite context gives the students the experience of working in mainstage professional music theatre.

The set and costumes (courtesy of Packemin Productions) are gorgeously detailed, successfully immersing the audience in a vibrant fairytale world. Lighting design by Chris Snape nicely emphasises the ebb and flow of the story, while the clever use of green side light brilliantly realises the magic in Fiona’s human-to-ogre transformations.

Playing the title role of Shrek is second-year student Patrick Wilson, whose Scottish background gives him an advantage in nailing down the character’s iconic Scots accent. Wilson radiates a naturally likable presence, making him the perfect casting for the beloved ogre, and his wonderful pop-rock vocal quality is eminently suited to contemporary music theatre.

Amy McCann’s Princess Fiona is lively with a nice comic bent. She is a dynamic young actor with a powerful voice. Her chemistry with Wilson is uncannily credible and, ultimately, she is just adorable.

McCann performs Fiona’s I-want-song “I Know It’s Today” with first-year student Ellie Esdene McMahon as Teen Fiona, and young actor Emily Constantine as young Fiona. The three singers achieve an emotional potency and this number is really very moving. Their respective characterisations wonderfully capture the hapless Princess Fiona’s yearning to leave imprisonment in that miserably dreary fairytale tower at different stages of her life.

McMahon’s performance is beautiful. Her Disney princess tone brings both naivete and hopefulness to Teen Fiona. Constantine is a refreshing young talent, as are her fellow child actors in the show: Harrison Thomas, who plays Young Shrek/Grumpy, and Lila Messenger, who shares the role of Young Fiona/Bambi with Constantine.

There is talent aplenty on show in this Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre show. Photo: Greg Balcombe / supplied

Greg Mitchell portrays Shrek’s friend and companion Donkey, in a display of  stamina and comic balletic poise. While he excels at depicting the playfulness of Donkey, he might have hinted at a deeper undercurrent of pain and emotions masked by that character. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s R&B-style singing voice is absolutely magnetic and a crowd-pleaser.

Darcy Wain’s Lord Farquaad is a delight to see. Wain portrays the ridiculous character – the hideous intended suitor to the hapless princess – with charm and emotional depth. It is a complex love-hate character and a farce of political incorrectness. His delivery soars with majestic and powerful singing.

One of the highlights of the show is Alana Iannace performing “Forever” as Dragon. This is an arresting powerhouse element. She is surrounded by a chorus of beautifully choreographed dancers with dragon limbs and wings as she beams aloft with her bright soulful voice and captivating physicality.

The students in the ensemble are not to be overlooked. They shine through as versatile performers with incredible dance abilities in jazz, tap, ballet and more. In the big, featured chorus numbers performed by the fairytale creatures of Shrek’s storybook world, the students demonstrate impressive acting abilities.

And, in their assorted solo lines, they are able to show off the prowess and promise of their vocal abilities. Their collective joyful energy is infectious.

These students are well-prepared to become triple threats. On top of their on-stage roles, many double as production crew members.

Elder Conservatorium Music Theatre’s production of Shrek the Musical is proof that Adelaide has so much to offer. Australian musical blockbusters should start scoping for talent.

Shrek the Musical was presented at the University of Adelaide’s Scott Theatre from November 16-19. 

Nicky Tsz Tung Li is the fourth recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. She is working with experienced writer Samela Harris to write a series of articles for publication on InReview.

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