Joining a packed auditorium filled with rowdy, excitable and very expectant children took me back to my own younger days of watching theatre with my family. Hundreds of big Madagascar fans (young and not-so young!) carrying cuddle versions of and sporting ears and tails similar to their favourite characters eagerly awaited what they hoped would be a huge spectacle of catchy songs, elaborate costumes, energetic dancing and funny dialogue; and were their expectations met? Well, sort of.
The innovative and brightly decorated set was immediately welcoming and fun, and the music struck up with a fast and catchy opening to many oohs, aahs and much eager chatter; however the first act unfortunately did not uphold this level of excitement or the attention of the crowd solidly throughout. The four main characters (Matt Terry as Alex the lion, Posi Morakinyo as Marty the zebra, Connor Dyer as Melman the giraffe, and Hannah Victoria as Gloria the hippopotamus) had big bright costumes to depict their species (which in turn had varying levels of success – a well devised giraffe puppet, and easily recognised lion and zebra costumes not met by the somewhat weird interpretation of a hippopotamus) and the supporting roles’ costumes and props were well done, particularly the enthusiastically puppeteered penguins.
Knowing the original movie well (and the subsequent sequels and spin-offs vaguely) I noticed fairly strong differences vocally and in personality for a couple of roles – Alex (Terry) most notably was not as macho or cocky as Adam Sandler’s depiction in the animated version – which isn’t a problem necessarily, except it seemed a few of the younger audience members may have been a little confused by this. That said, Morakinyo, William Beckerleg (as Skipper the penguin) and, in the second act, Kieran Mortell (as King Julian) were spot-on.
The songs and dance numbers in the first half were well executed but didn’t always have the entertainment value to hold the attention of a predominantly juvenile audience. 2016 X-Factor winner Terry certainly has an incredible voice, but unfortunately seems to have very little experience with musical theatre. He lacked a bit in stage presence and dance ability, and, although his riffing and musical styling reminiscent of Bublé were very impressive, they were not suited to this show or really appreciated by its target audience. Local boy Dyer put on a good display as Melman and Morakinyo was great as Marty, particularly given he only graduated this year and this role sees him in his professional theatre debut, but it was the second half, and the arrival of King Julian (Mortell) that saved what was potentially becoming a bit of an underwhelming show.
Mortell had already appeared in the first act as a variety of ensemble characters, including a rather scared policeman (much to the hilarity of the children!) but from the moment he set foot (or knee – costume related) on stage as King Julian in act two, until the moment he took his final bow at the end, he stole the show – head and shoulders (ironically – again, costume related!) above anyone else. His superb comic timing, endless energy, brilliant movement (no mean feat in his slightly debilitating get-up) and overall characterisation were all impeccable, and he had everyone crying with laughter. The first outing and encore reprise of “I Like To Move It”, both of which he led, had almost the entire auditorium on its feet – and justifiably so.
In conclusion Madagascar is a mixed bag. If you’re looking to take your children to a musical version of a much loved, animated, animal musical, then Lion Ling will always be streets ahead and also more enjoyable throughout for adults. However, could I tell you if a time when I have laughed at, clapped and sung along to and genuinely loved and individual’s performance as much as Kieran Mortell’s King Julian? Probably not.
Endure the pace of the first half to be more than rewarded in the second.
Review by Sam Dunning
Based on the smash-hit DreamWorks animated motion picture, Madagascar – The Musical follows all your favourite cracka-lackin’ friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to the madcap world of King Julien’s Madagascar.
Alex the lion is the king of the urban jungle, the main attraction at New York’s Central Park Zoo. He and his best friends – Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo – have spent their whole lives in blissful captivity before an admiring public and with regular meals provided for them. Not content to leave well enough alone, Marty lets his curiosity get the better of him and makes his escape – with the help of some prodigious penguins – to explore the world.
Join Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the hip hip Hippo and those hilarious, plotting penguins as they bound onto the stage in the musical adventure of a lifetime. Filled with outlandish characters, adventure galore and an upbeat score, you’ll have no choice but to “Move It, Move It!”