Dreamworks’ trio of Madagascar films made a mint at the box office worldwide, so it was pretty obvious that this musical adaptation would follow the lively and funny Shrek to the stage.
Like Pixar/Disney movies, there has always been much for adults to enjoy in these films – in jokes, references to popular culture, and the well-known actors chosen to voice the zoo animals, including Ben Stiller and Friends star David Schwimmer.
In this really cute and cuddly stage version, the headline star is X Factor winner Matt Terry and he proves to be incredibly agile and engaging as Alex, the lion with an ego the size of Simon Cowell’s.
But every single member of this brilliant cast brings warmth and energy to the table – so much so that many kids in the audience whooped during the performance on the night I attended.
If you know the first film, you’ll know that the plot is as thin as Melman the giraffe.
Like Chicken Run, another animated hit, it revolves around a great escape. A group of animals tuck in Central Park Zoo become bored of doing the same stuff every day. They were born to be wild and want more from life. So they hatch a plan and off they go in search of freedom.
Alex, Marty (the zebra), Melman, and Gloria (the hippo) have defined personalities and are well served by the writers, Kevin Del Aguila, George Noriega and Joel Someillan. Selladoor Family and Hartshorn–Hook have not scrimped on the set design or puppetry designed to bring this tale to life.
But there is an infectious, ‘let’s put on a good show’ attitude which runs through the show, like the letters in a stick of rock. And they spell F-U-N. For kids used to seeing the sheer scale of The Lion King on stage, it’s lovely to see a show which puts performance before spectacle.
If you’re taking some ankle biters along and you’re wondering what’s in it for you, never fear. There are some contemporary sounding songs and plenty of gags to keep you laughing along, including references to Usain Bolt, and Fifty Shades of Grey (before you panic about bringing the little ones, it’s referring to Marty’s colouring), as well as plenty of slapstick humour.
Matt Terry is clearly having a blast. Because he trained in musical theatre, it all seems to have come back to him, and despite a weighty costume, he acquits himself well, with a brilliant American accent and enough charm to please kids and adults alike.
Jo Parsons steals the show as the small but perfectly formed King Julien. He is quite something as he encourages the audience to go wild for him, and it worked on the night I attended.
Timmika Ramsay’s Gloria is as soulful as Jennifer Hudson, and the main cast are supported by five fantastic ensemble performers who voice penguins, sing, and act as puppeteers. The energy in the show, on a hot and humid night, was really admirable and the cast clearly love what they do.
I took a mini-critic along with me – 9 year-old Daisy Whittle from Bolton. She has been in a theatre group at the Bolton Octagon so she knows a thing or two about stage presence, and she was enamoured throughout this bright and breezy show.
She particularly liked Antoine Murray-Straughan’s turn as Marty, the wise-cracking zebra with an identity crisis. She also loved Jamie-Lee Morgan’s hypochondriac giraffe, as he plays him like a very tall Woody Allen.
Daisy also really enjoyed the choreography, particularly when there was flossing involved. She is an expert at this dance move herself, and gave them a sev-ennn, based on the fact she is a bit better at it than the cast.
In the car on the way home, she said; “I want to go again tomorrow.”
What better recommendation is there than that?
Madagascar the Musical is at The Palace Theatre until 18 August.