“If they don’t do ‘I Like to Move It’, I’m going home”. This was my ruling sentiment upon entering the Playhouse for the opening night of Madagascar: the Musical. Based on the much-loved Dreamworks film, this touring production promises a wild evening of song, dance, and hilarity, but unfortunately errs on the tamer side of things.
I’d like to preface this review by saying that if you have a child, or are one, this show cannot fail to entertain. A young boy two rows ahead of us leapt out of his seat with excitement at regular intervals, and left the theatre singing at the top of his lungs. I am not a child, however, and found the production somewhat lacklustre. The show clearly hinges on its featuring X-Factor winner Matt Terry as Alex the lion, who while gifted with an impressive voice, lacks energy in his dancing and acting. His co-stars make up for this with their enthusiastic incarnations of Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the giraffe, but as the story focuses almost exclusively on Alex, it’s hard to ignore his lack of theatrical training.
The show features original music by Mark Crossland and Angharad Sanders. While fun to watch and well-made, this is played from recording for the cast to sing along to. The music often drowns out their singing – a technical hiccup that can surely be ironed out for future performances – and frustratingly, does little to further the plot. Indeed, the first act is repetitive and set exclusively in New York, leaving only forty minutes set in Madagascar, where the majority of the story plays out. The script is much the same as it is in the film, unlike the better-known ‘Shrek: the Musical’ by the same company, which features some original dialogue. In addition, the plot is over-simplified to a fault. This is sorely felt in the lack of character development in all four leading roles.
This being said, the production remains a happily silly night out for the family. King Julien (Jo Parsons) obviously stole the show with his exuberant narcissism and energetic rendition of ‘I Like to Move It’. The endearingly mischievous penguins were brought to life with cleverly-made puppets, controlled by the very talented ensemble (Shane McDaid, Matthew Pennington, Laura Johnson, Jessica Niles, and Victoria Boden). The dances were sharp and neat, and this being a show for a younger audience, of course Julien had to dab, floss, and nae-nae. Of note was Jamie Lee-Morgan as Melman, whose costume required some very impressive puppetry. I must confess that the rest of the costumes seemed to me almost terrifying, giving Marty (Antoine Murray-Straughan) and Alex truly enormous thighs, and Julien the kind of stage makeup that I would not want to encounter in a dark alleyway. These are, however, details that lend comic value to the show. We couldn’t help but laugh at Marty’s poker-straight mane and Gloria’s (Timmika Ramsay) bouncing across the stage on her voluminous hippo backside.
While a good time for children, this musical remains something of a disappointment, and does not justify the astonishing £45 ticket fee. It’s saved by its supporting cast and visual gags, but were it not based on the (truly excellent) film, it would fail to deliver.
Images by Scott Rylander