Entertainment

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Pogo with the flow at kids' musical

'Madagascar the Musical' at the Gaiety theatre is great fun, but firmly aimed at families with young kids, writes Anne Marie Scanlon

Madagascar The Musical
Madagascar The Musical

Anne Marie Scanlon

The original Madagascar film was released in 2005 and has been a firm favourite with all ages ever since. So much so, there have been two sequels and now it's on stage as Madagascar the Musical. The plot revolves around four wild animals in New York's Central Park Zoo - Alex the Lion, the star attraction, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman a hypochondriac Giraffe, memorably voiced by David Schwimmer in the movie. The zoo also contains a group of Mafioso-type Penguins - Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private, who are determined to get to Antarctica.

Celebrating his 10th birthday, Marty the Zebra is having a mid-life crisis - he wants to escape the confines of the zoo and run in the open. Marty escapes, with help from the Penguins, and his pals follow him in order to bring him back to the zoo. The animals end up in Grand Central Station, where they unsurprisingly cause chaos. A couple of tranquilliser darts later they all wake up in crates, on board a ship bound for Kenya. The Penguins have other ideas and hijack the ship to go to Antarctica. During the hijinks, the crates containing the four main characters fall overboard, and are washed up in Madagascar.

The stage production follows the original plot faithfully. The characters are represented using both actors and puppets which is great fun and works exceptionally well. Melman the Giraffe is a mixture of both, but I won't say more as it would ruin it for audiences.

As in the original film, the Penguins steal every scene they are in, thanks to puppeteers Shane McDaid, Laura Johnson, Jessica Bites and Victoria Boden. Not only are they proficient puppeteers but the accents were spot on - and I lived in New York for a long time, so I'm an expert!

The 2016 X-Factor winner Matt Terry heads up the cast as Alex the Lion, and does as good a job as anyone playing a singing lion could do. The real star of the show though, in the first half, is Antoine Murray-Straughan, who plays Marty and is a classic 'triple-threat' being able to act, sing and dance. Boy, can he dance! Both Jamie Lee-Morgan as Melman and Timmika Ramsay as Gloria have the great comic timing that these roles demand.

Madagascar the Musical is firmly aimed at families - families with young kids. My son, at 12, while enjoying it, was just that little bit too old. The theatre was packed with wee ones - some babies on knees and it was joyful to see how much they were enjoying themselves. Many of the children had Madagascar toys clutched firmly in their hands and a small boy just behind us announced "It's Alex the Lion!" rapturously every time the character walked on to the stage.

The show owes more to the panto tradition than it does to musical theatre but who doesn't enjoy a good panto? The sets are simple and bright, but fans will be pleased to know the famous crate scene, when the animals wake up in boxes aboard the ship, is recreated faithfully. All of the characters are visually very colourful in the bold palette that appeals to smallies. Both first and second acts are shorter than in traditional theatre but again, this helps keep the small people focused.

Act Two begins with the animals arriving in Madagascar (although they're all convinced they're in San Diego Zoo) where they meet King Julien the Lemur who was famously voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen in the original film. Baron Cohen is a hard act to follow but Jo Parsons nails the character and had everyone, children, adults, the soon-to-be-teen beside me, crying laughing. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, while Parsons is on the stage, all eyes are on him. When Julian launches into the song I Like to Move It, the audience went wild. Small children were pogoing in their seats. Later, when Julian reprised the song, the whole theatre got to their feet and danced. If you could harness sheer happiness, the energy meter would have burst. There is nothing in this show that could disturb, or upset a small child, but there are a lot of flashing lights which could affect some little people.

Most of the original songs are fine for the younger audience, but two stood out as worth mentioning. Relax, Be Cool, got everyone clapping along and Alex's homage to the magnificence of steaks was a wonderful musical number, complete with black-and-white clad waitresses with bright red curls and, get this, singing steaks!

Having sat through more than my fair share of kid-centric entertainment over the past 12 years I know that some of it is excruciating. Not this. Madagascar the Musical is genuinely fun for all the family. Just be prepared to pogo!

'Madagascar the Musical' is at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin from March 26-31. Tickets from EU 26. www.ticketmaster.ie. Telephone: 0818 719 388. Email. boxoffice@gaietytheatre.com

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