HAVING spent most of the noughties in the Far East, I missed much of the razzamatazz that surrounded the original Madagascar – Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath’s computer animated film which featured the familiar voices of Ben Stiller and Sacha Baron Cohen among others.
With its host of well-known musical numbers such as Stayin’ Alive, Hawaii 5-0 and What a Wonderful World, the film was, I understand, a huge popular success despite receiving a rather mixed reception from the critics. First released in 2005, Madagascar was followed by a number of sequels and spin-offs, and now, fairly predictably I suppose, forms the basis of this lively and wonderfully colourful musical.
Although the plot is pretty faithful to the DreamWorks original with Marty the Zebra encouraging his best friends Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe to leave the blissful captivity of New York’s Central Park Zoo for a life in the wild, the story has, out of necessity, been compressed to make it rather more suitable for family audiences. It has also been very appropriately updated in places, and though most of the script remains the same, a few contemporary phrases have crept in while the slick and hugely energetic choreography makes terrific use of the latest craze, floss dancing.
It is the music however that has undergone the biggest change and apart from a hint of Born Free at the beginning, most of the familiar songs from the film have been replaced by an original score by George Noriega and Joel Someillan.
In place of recent X-Factor winner Matt Terry, last night’s cast featured understudy Brandon Gale in the role of Alex the Lion. Although some X-Factor fans might have been disappointed, Gale brought all the necessary vitality and charm to his portrayal of the king of the jungle. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his big band number, Give Me Steak! A real showstopper if ever there was one. He was ably abetted by his three friends Timmika Ramsay as the voluptuous Gloria, Jamie Lee-Morgan as Melman the hypochondriac and Antoine Murray-Straughan as Marty, undoubtedly the most satisfying of the four main roles. His was a charismatic, high energy performance too – crackalackin from start to finish.
However it was Jo Parsons as the irrepressible, party-loving King Julien who almost stole the show; his We Like To Move It, one of the few songs lifted from the original film, deservedly got the biggest applause of the evening. Camp and manic in equal measure, we, the audience, loved him and Parsons knew just how to play us.
Roguish penguins and assorted jungle creatures, all in the expert hands of a small group of puppeteers, added to the merriment, and while the script itself might have been a bit thin in places, there were enough gags, jokes and inoffensive toilet humour to keep us all amused. Likewise, some of the music was pretty undistinguished, and rather too loud in Act I, but compensated for by lively action, Max Humphries and Emma Brunton’s delightful puppetry and Fabian Aloise’s upbeat, athletic choreography. The set, costumes and lighting too were spectacular; it certainly wasn’t just the children in the audience who were enchanted by it all.
I think it is probably fair to say that you would really need to be familiar with the film to get the most out of this show, but even if you’re not, don’t let that put you off. Join the parents, grandparents, school groups, cubs, brownies and children of all ages and go and have a bit of fun.
Make sure you look out for the singing steaks too! Madagascar- The Musical is at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 13th October as part of a national tour, and stops at Exeter Northcott from 12th to 17th November.