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Shrek the Musical is about to open in New York in a co-production between Dream Works and Sam Mendes's Neal Street Productions. And yet a happy fairy-tale ending is by no means guaranteed.Broadway musical versions of Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and Tarzan all fared disappointingly, with critics railing at over-literal translations of the films.Cue Big Bright Beautiful World - the obviously ironic opening musical number."Hopefully, right at the first moment of the show, people realise that it's not the movie exactly, even though it's similar," says Jason Moore, the musical's director.With voices supplied by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, the Dream Works Studio's films broke Pixar's grip on the market for funny, clever animated films with genuine family appeal.The misgivings of eight-year-old purists aside and regardless of financial considerations (the billion figure for the Shrek films is reportedly accurate), the theatricality of the films always suggested musical potential.It's hard to be taken seriously when you're a big, green monster. I don't think that's going to work," says my eight-year-old daughter of Shrek the Musical.The innocent soul knows nothing of brand-name extensions, Hollywood tie-ins and billion franchises that go bump in the night.Shrek, the gruff but kindly ogre (not troll), his sidekick Donkey, love interest Princess Fiona, villainous Lord Farquaad and a supporting cast of dysfunctional fairyland characters all starred in the animation blockbuster of 2001.
It features original music and lyrics, and its story is based not on the film but on the children's book, by William Steig, to which the movie only loosely referred.
They are keen to point out that the idea came not from someone in the Dream Works licensing department but from the Oscar-winning Mendes, who developed a close relationship with the studio while making American Beauty."Yes, of course Shrek was a huge film success, but the original source material is a wonderful fairy tale told in a particularly contemporary language," says Caro Newling, who runs Neal Street Productions with Mendes and Pippa Harris.
And that was before a tumbling US economy made New York theatre tickets an even greater luxury than they were already.
Shrek's producers and creative team are at pains to stress that theirs is not simply a spin-off but stands on its own stumpy green legs.
Dream Works won't be drawn on the production's cost, but Newling says it certainly won't be the most expensive on Broadway.
Shrekkies will notice that the musical is going off-piste from the film right from the start when the curtain rises to reveal a seven-year-old Shrek turfed out into an unfriendly world by his parents.