It’s time for belly laughs, feel-good music and adventure! Shrek The Musical is coming to Sunderland Empire 6 – 10 February and we’re catching up with the one and only Joanne Clifton, playing Princess Fiona
Toe-tapping tunes, hilarious antics and a larger-than-life green ogre who’s ready to steal your heart – Shrek The Musical is coming to Sunderland Empire! This ‘swampy’ yet sensational Broadway and West End hit show production will bring the beloved characters of Shrek to life in a way you’ve never seen before.
From the producers of Hairspray and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Shrek The Musical with Joanne Clifton brings together a new creative team to reimagine this award-winning show, featuring all the classic characters from DreamWorks animated film and, of course, the iconic songs and story.
As we eagerly wait in anticipation to see the characters and brush up on our lyrics to ‘I’m A Believer’, we chat to Shrek The Musical star Joanne Clifton, professional show dance champion, a musical theatre enthusiast, and the fabulous Princess Fiona.
You have an extensive background in ballroom dancing, you’ve been on Strictly Come Dancing and then later decided to leave that world behind and focus on your musical theatre career. How has this transition been, from being a professional dancer to now taking on the role of Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical?
I’ve always wanted to do musicals. As a kid, I trained in all three. I did ballroom dancing and I’ve also had acting and singing lessons. Around the age of 16, I decided to concentrate on my ballroom dancing career and I moved to Italy to train.
When I was in Italy, I couldn’t continue with my singing and acting training, because I simply couldn’t speak the language. So, I concentrated on competitive dancing until I was 30.
Then, when Strictly Come Dancing came along, I moved back to England and that’s where I went back to my singing and acting lessons.
As it happened, in my third year of doing Strictly Come Dancing, we won and I thought: ‘There’s no better time than now to follow my childhood dream of performing in musicals’, and that’s what I’ve been doing since 2017. I love every minute of it.
The musical is based on an extremely popular Dreamworks film. What are some of the elements that people can see in the musical as opposed to the film?
So, the story and the characters are the same as in the film. However, we have the addition of original songs. Of course, we have ‘I’m A Believer’, but we also have so many original songs and this is the element which gives the audience a deeper insight into the characters, one that they might not see in the film.
We have a song called ‘I Know It’s Today’ and it’s got three versions of Princess Fiona. One of her at seven years old, as a teenager and an adult. This gives the audience a glimpse into her upbringing, how she felt living in the tower, and what she dreams of now. So, through these additional songs, the audience gets a chance to learn more about their beloved characters.
How do you live up to the high expectations that were created by the film?
I’ve done quite a few musicals now that were based on films and I learned pretty quickly how to deal with that. Of course, I always do my research to get an idea of the character but at the end of the day, I always know that I’m never going to be exactly like Cameron Diaz and how she voices the character in the film.
I know that I need to bring what people want and love of each character but I also bring a lot of myself to it. If I try to be exactly the as same as the film version, I’m never going to live up to the expectations.
When it comes to Princess Fiona, I have my own take on it and the description that I get often when playing her is that I’m feisty!
The musical has some wonderful costumes and make-up, how long does it take you to become the ogre version of Princess Fiona?
I’m quite lucky because, for most of the show, I’m human Fiona. I become ogre Princess Fiona twice, at the end of Act One and Act Two.
Act One is quite easy, we use nose and ear prosthetics as well as padding. However, at the end of Act Two, the change from human Fiona to ogre is really quick. I have about 50 seconds to run off stage. So, it’s usually wig off, dress off and I have five people helping me become the ogre.
This includes padding, hands, wig, and nose and then I’m also painted green over my face and down to my chest bone at the front and back. And off I go!
Sometimes I run back on stage and I can feel the paint drying as I’m in the scene, and a prosthetic nose that’s been quickly stuck on but has never fallen off. Touch wood!
Princess Fiona is such a beloved character, how did you prepare for this role? Were there any specific challenges or aspects of the character that you focused on during your preparation?
I think opposite to when I played Morticia Adams, I didn’t have many challenges with Princess Fiona. If you think of characters like Morticia, she’s quite authoritative. I’m not like that at all. When it comes to Princess Fiona, I’m very similar and it’s one of the reasons why she’s been one of my dream roles to play.
I relate to her in so many ways. She’s a princess and also an ogre, but she’s not your idea of what a princess would be like. I, on the other hand, am a world-champion ballroom dancer and when you think of dancers, you think of softly-spoken and graceful individuals, and I am so not it. So, when I play Fiona, there’s a lot of myself in there.
Do you have a personal favourite song from the show? What kind of story does it tell?
Yes! It’s a song towards the end of the musical called ‘Who I’d Be’. Donkey is asking Shrek if he could be anyone in this world, who would he be and Shrek, who’s always lived his life being feared and hated, says he’d love to be a hero. He’d love to remove his helmet without people being scared of him.
I find that one quite emotional and powerful. It’s definitely my favourite.
Shrek the Musical has got some really good themes in it, ones of friendship, individuality, overcoming prejudice etc. Who is the main audience for this show?
It’s a family show but so far I have noticed a really good mix of people in the audience. We get adults that come with their friends, we have teenagers, middle-aged, everyone!
That’s the magical thing about Shrek The Musical, it appeals to everybody. We have some jokes that children find hilarious and we have adult jokes which fly over the children’s heads. But the message behind the musical is relevant to everybody.
The musical shows that it’s okay to accept who you are, it’s okay to hang around with people who are different, and you don’t have to look like everybody else to fit in.
On the first night of the show, I overheard one lady saying to her friends that she just came out to see it because it made her really happy, and that’s what’s it all about.
As you prepare to bring Shrek The Musical to Sunderland, is there a special message you’d like to share with the audience in anticipation of the show?
Don’t try to be who anybody else wants you to be, just be yourself and have a blooming good time!
Shrek The Musical with Joanne Clifton will visit Sunderland Empire from Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 February. Tickets are available here.