June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Gags about the gassier bodily functions usually drag the theater into comedy hell.
In “Shrek: The Musical” they’re part of an unlikely love duet and it’s comedy heaven.
After a year on Broadway and a U.S. tour, the slick show moves to the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Designer Tim Hatley’s castles, swamps and towers are simplified and enlarged to suit the large stage, and a British cast takes over.
Nigel Lindsay, with green make-up and stick-out ears, is the titular misanthropic ogre who unwillingly rescues a princess in order to win his swamp back. Amanda Holden is his rescuee Princess Fiona, a girl by day and secret ogre by night.
After initial distrust, the couple begin to bond with each other in the number “I Think I Got You Beat,” arising out of a surprisingly amusing fart and burp contest.
It’s when the show takes off in unexpected directions like this that the sparks really fly. A tap routine for Fiona, the Pied Piper, and a chorus of tuxedoed rats is another showstopper.
The tiny and evil Lord Farquaad is played by Nigel Harman on his knees, with fake comedy legs dangling from his waist. The choreography exploits these tiny members with increasing inventiveness, and when Farquaad begins to swing hand-over-hand along a 10-sword salute, the effect is wonderfully droll.
Holden is terrific as Fiona, and brings an amusing bossy-boots tone to the part. The plot works well. The relationships are nicely judged. The direction by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford is slick and funny. There’s even a spectacular flying dragon (voiced by Landi Oshinowo), which swoops to the stage over the audience. It’s got everything going for it. Nearly.
If composer Jeanine Tesori has a great ear for pastiche, it comes at the expense of anything really personal. There’s a Jerome Kern-type number, a soul ballad, an Offenbach parody, a power anthem, and so on. It’s all effective and efficient, without ever quite being memorable or consistent.
Could this be the reason for only a year’s run -- which is good, not great -- on Broadway?
Time, and word of mouth, will determine the box-office takings for a show that deserves to do well. If you don’t come out humming the tunes, you’ll probably still be singing the praises of everything else.
Over at Opera Holland Park it’s the plot, not the music, of the latest production which raises eyebrows. Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz” (1891) is about a landowner who falls in love with a young girl. Nothing stands in his way, and it still takes him a couple of hours to get her.
Plot= 0. Music= 10. The score is full of gorgeous melodies, and includes “Cherry Duet” made famous by Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni. Under conductor Stuart Stratford, the emotional sweep of the music is perfectly judged, and honey-voiced soprano Anna Leese is delightful as the lover Suzel. If tenor Eric Margiore doesn’t have a huge voice, he makes up for it with sweetness and stylishness as Fritz.
Annilese Miskimmon’s delightful production, set in a “Mad Men”-style 1950s office, does as good a job as possible.
Richard Jones is a celebrated opera director (his production of “Anna Nicole” was a hit at the Royal Opera) who has recently been returning to his roots in spoken theater.
His production of Gogol’s 1836 comedy “The Government Inspector” (adapted by David Harrower) at the Young Vic is a masterpiece of farcical choreography and brilliant absurdity.
A satire on greed and corruption, it tells of a group of townspeople who bribe an inspector who they mistakenly believe has come to report on them. Jones sets it in a mad visual mix of 19th-century and early-1970s styles. Mutton sleeves are mashed up with shiny stretch tops, psychedelic patterns with frock coats. It creates a stifling provincial world, funny and hideous.
In a superb cast, Doon Mackichan -- all strained vowels and obsequious curtsies -- steals the show as the mayor’s ambitious wife. A whirling, frenetic comic joy.
Equally powerful, for different reasons, was the opening weekend of the 64th Aldeburgh Festival on England’s east coast. A top-notch group of singers, including Angelika Kirchschlager, Ian Bostridge and Christopher Purves, assembled for concert performances of Britten’s opera “The Rape of Lucretia.”
Kirchschlager was electrifying as the virtuous Lucretia who kills herself, and her warm voice soared with passion. Bostridge, with his trademark clarity of diction, was on great form, and conductor Oliver Knussen held it together with a vivid sense of atmosphere and drama.
The festival continues until June 26 with performances by the French baroque group Les Talens Lyriques, the baritone Matthias Goerne singing Schubert, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.”
“Shrek: The Musical” is at the Drury Lane Theatre. http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk or +44-844-871-8810
“L’amico Fritz” is in repertory at Opera Holland Park. http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/operahollandpark or +44-300-999-1000
“The Government Inspector” is at the Young Vic. http://www.youngvic.org or +44-20-7922-2922
For information about the Aldeburgh Festival, see http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk or +44-1728-687110.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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