Review: Madagascar the Musical UK tour (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Madagascar is one of those animated films beloved and revered by many – quoted by legions of fans of all ages. The franchise, which started in 2005, has spawned an unforgettable variety of characters, from suave penguins through to hypochondriac giraffes (hypochon-giraffes, you could say). Seeing the film come to the stage in a new adaptation brings an element of trepidation – can any production live up to such a high bar?
It's a great relief, therefore, to find that the story is very much in a safe pair of hands (and paws, and hooves, and…flippers?) in Selladoor's new retooling of the classic. With a handful of chipper tunes and some top-notch design from Tom Rogers, DreamWorks' feature makes the safe transition from screen to stage with all the necessary buckets of charm and goodwill.
For those not up to scratch with the plot, the story essentially follows four New York zoo animals – Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo – catapulted from their lives in the Big Apple and marooned on the titular African island – surrounded by a horde of wild creatures, both carnivorous and caring.
And wild the Madagascar musical most certainly is – it's an uncomplicated, breezy night of theatre perfect for a family outing during the school holiday season. Even the most fidgety five year-old will be transfixed by Max Humphries' intricate and entirely convincing puppetry design, while choreographer Fabian Aloise certainly "likes to move it move it" – the show is a non-stop whirl of cheesy dance moves and shape throwing.
Recent X Factor winner Matt Terry, playing Alex the Lion, may be the main (or should that be mane?) attraction for many, and he makes an assured professional stage debut, whipping out an impressive falsetto for a couple of early numbers. Jo Parsons' King Julien goes a long way towards stealing the show in the second act, playing his surreal, party-loving Lemur monarch like a character from a lost episode of The Mighty Boosh. Timmika Ramsay also delivers a solid turn as Gloria, while Antoine Murray-Straughan's rapping, freedom-craving zebra is a perfect best friend for Terry's starstruck feline.
It's important to note that this is not a show exclusively reserved for the kids – one tongue-in-cheek tribute to "Strawberry Fields" ("Raspberry Clouds" it is called) is a knowingly funny skit, while another gag about a rectal thermometer went down a storm among the more 'experienced' members of the audience. A slightly absurd number with talking steaks (trust me, it makes sense) also reflects a production unafraid to embrace its eccentricities, something director Kirk Jameson can be entirely commended for.
It all amounts to a joke-filled night of puppetry, whimsical humour and dazzling design. Madagascar may not have the most memorable tunes in musical theatre history and the plot may feel a bit threadbare even for a show lasting 100 minutes with interval, but the cast of ten do a stellar job in creating a whole host of characters, manning various puppets with aplomb. Welcome to the jungle: in Madagascar, it's all fun and games.