Book by Kevin Del Aguila. Music and Lyrics by George Noriega & Joel Someillan. GMG Productions. Associate Director: Nick Purdie. Sydney Coliseum Theatre, 16 Dec, 2022 – 1 Jan, 2023.
Reviewed : December 8, 2022*
Recreating animated characters as living beings is difficult enough if the characters are human. But animals? Big, upright, talking, singing and dancing animals! That calls for a great deal of talent and imagination – but costume maker Robert Allsopp and puppet designer Max Humphries had just that creative skill. Their original designs are stunning replicas of the movie characters and bring the caged animals of the New York Zoo to life in a production that is big, colourful, hoof-tapping fun!
The costumes are big too, but appear to be incredibly light considering the movement they allow. The features of each animal are carefully detailed – stripes, mane, the hippo’s tiny tail and ears – but retain the comic book images of the original animations. The faces of the performers, suitably and cleverly made up, give human attributes … and humour and charisma to their animal characters.
The penguins are puppets, cunningly operated by multi-talented puppeteers who sing and dance their web-footed friends through a variety of spaces and situations – including steering the ship that takes them to Madagascar.
Ten energetic performers and two faithful swings make up the ensemble. The pace they are set is fast with choreography carefully suited to the physical possibilities allowed by the costumes for some, and the flexibility of their manipulators for others. Together they bring the simple story of being “as free as the wind blows” to the live stage.
Former Titanium boyband member Andrew Papas plays Alex, a different kind of lion king, ruling from inside the cages of the New York Zoo. Papas is a practised performer. His confident characterisation reaches out to the young audience with genuine bobhomie and leonine appeal.
His relationship with Marty the giraffe, performed with suitable ‘cage-stuck’ yearning by Hi-5’s Joe Kalou, is established quickly and appealingly. Kalou’s expressive face shines through the make-up finding the sympathy of the young audience – and their parents. The Marty he creates is gentle, friendly but filled with an antipathy to restrictions that his young audience might understand.
Gloria the hippopotamus is playfully performed by Moniquewa Williams, who finds the equable nature of this particular hippo in gentle humour and a partiality for hip-hop! Light on her feet and expressively calm, Williams makes Gloria an audience favourite.
In this production Jack Stratford replaced Devon Neiman as Melman the giraffe, not an easy task as the animal’s long neck and head are attached to a stick which the actor operates by hand. It is fun to see his bespectacled face singing at shoulder height whilst he manipulates his neck and head via a double string arrangement on the stick.
King Julien, the ring-tailed lemur, is played Jonathan Martin, who makes this ground-loving lemur short but in command! The ring-tailed lemur is only found in Madagascar, so it is appropriate that King Julien welcomes the New York refugees to stay on his island and “Move it, Move it” with him and his sleepy pal Maurice.
The musical theatre version of Madagascar brings the animal characters to bright and tangible life on a comic book set that replicates the colourful illustrations of the movie. It’s lots of fun and short enough to sustain the interest of even very young theatre goers.