JOANNE Clifton loves the Grand Opera House, York, and not only for theatrical reasons.
“I’ve done three musicals there but it’s also where I signed off on my first house in Dressing Room 2,” says the 2016 Strictly Come Dancing champion.
From Monday, Joanne returns to the Cumberland Street theatre to play Princess Fiona alongside Antony Lawrence’s Shrek, James Gillan’s Lord Farquaad and Brandon Lee Sears’ Donkey in Sam Holmes and Nick Winston’s “Shrektacular” 2023-2024 touring production of David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeannie Tesori’s musical.
“We’re on the road from the end of July to April next year: a long tour, I know, but it’s my favourite role I’ve ever done, so I’m happy to do it as long as possible,” says the 2013 World Ballroom Showdance champion, who turned 40 on October 26.
“Fiona’s someone I really relate to. I know she’s a cartoon character, but if ever there was a princess I should play, it would be Fiona, as I’m not your typical princess. Maybe that’s because I’m from Grimsby.
“I’m never going to be the same as Cameron Diaz [who voiced Fiona in the Shrek films]. I’m told I’m more feisty. I shout a lot, especially at Shrek in my first few scenes where I want him to rescue me right now from the tower.”
Joanne loved the original Shrek animated film that spawned this official Dreamworks Theatricals musical. “Everyone knows the film, and how the film wasn’t the same as other cartoon films,” she says. “It’s a feelgood, funny musical, and of course it’s for kids but there are lots of jokes for adults too that go over kids’ heads.
“There are some important messages behind it too: be who you want to be, rather than living up to other people’s expectations. Princess Fiona starts out trying to be like how people expect a princess to be but ends up fighting and burping, falling for an ogre and getting on with a donkey!”
Summing up the humour, Joanne says: “It’s a very, very funny show, especially Lord Farquaad, and all that trumping that Shrek does and Fiona does. The kids absolutely love that! So there’s adult humour and toilet humour – at the end of the day trumps are just funny!”
Nick Winston’s choreography includes a big tap number for the former Strictly winner at the opening to Act Two. “I’m tap dancing with loads of rats as I’ve met the Pied Piper, who’s being followed by all these rats,” she says. “Especially as I’m 40 now, it’s one of the most demanding parts of the show – apart from the quick chase with the ogre at the end – because I’m singing, then I’m tap dancing and then have to finish by singing these big notes.”
The song in question is Morning Person. “I’m absolutely not a morning person!” says Joanne. “I’m very much an evening person. I’ll stay up until 2am, and if I could, I’d stay in bed all day.”
Nevertheless, the weekly performance schedule demands plenty of matinees. “We’ve recently done two weeks where we’ve had ‘double doubles’, matinees and evening shows on Wednesday and Thursday and then two shows on Saturday too. Sometimes we do eight shows in five days, but we just have to make it fun, and this cast is really good fun.
“On those matinee days, we’ll get breakfast, do the show, where we’re all buzzing after doing I’m A Believer at the end, and then everyone’s in the green room, having fun, some cast members doing jigsaws, and we have a Lego club too.”
Neil Diamond’s I’m A Believer – best known for The Monkees’ 1966 hit version – is joined by original songs aplenty in the musical. “There are extra bits to the story too that make it better,” says Joanne. “Like my first song, I Know It’s Today, where Fiona goes through the stages of her life in the tower, from the age of seven, reading books, then teenage Fiona, older and brasher, and then I come on as Fiona as she is now, going out of her mind stuck in the tower.”
Joanne will be appearing in an American musical for the fourth time at the Grand Opera House after playing prim and proper college student Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Show in June 2019 and starring twice in 2017, first as demure Kansas flapper girl Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie in February, then combustible Pittsburgh steel mill welder Alex Owens in Flashdance in November.
“It’s one of my favourite theatres,” she says. “I love old, traditional theatres, and York has such happy memories for me.”
Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, November 27 to December 2, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Copyright of The Press, York