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FringeReview UK 2018

Madagascar The Musical

Selladoor family and Harthorn-Hook Productions

Genre: Adaptation, Children's Theatre, Contemporary, Family, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, New Writing, Puppetry, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

In this musical version of the 2005 film, Kirk Jameson directs with Fabian Aloise’s choreography spinning the cast round an ever-mobile set by Tom Rogers, neatly lit by Howard Hudson. Chris Whybrow’s sound wraps round George Noreiega’s recorded score, supervised by Angharad Sanders where Mark Crossland’s ensures a big beast sound. Laura Rushton’s figure-hugging costumes score with the lead characters. King Julien’s Jo Parson is also resident director. Max Humphries’ penguin and lemur puppets directed by Emma Brunton manage an aah! appeal.


Dreamed up in a one-liner from the Dreamworks factory, the 2005 film is as delicious as its fantastically-skied set with neon-cartooned backdrops. So this story of four furred friends and a bunch of recurring penguins shouldn’t be hit over the vegan nut with anything as serious as announcing: Madagascar The Musical comes to Theatre Royal Brighton. But it has anyway.


With its sparkling ensemble and warnings of photography earning a handful of poo thrown in your face by the announcing monkey, you know you – and the children in your row – are going to lap up this show. Well not everything, obviously. It starts early at 7pm and ends 8.40. Well in time for bed.


There’s a scatter of scatological jokes aimed directly at the more robust, responsible members of the audience. So those under ten. Vegans and wind are cruelly exposed.


Kirk Jameson directs this immensely hard-working cast with Fabian Aloise’s choreography spinning them round an ever-mobile set by Tom Rogers. It’s striking and fun, neatly lit by Howard Hudson. Apart from the emerging skyscrapers and on-off penguin-topped icebergs and subway notices depending when and where you are, there’s a permanent fringe of crates hedging the pros-arch with ‘marked-fragile’ divinity. Even better, the second act opens with a wonderful interlocking set of crates downstage where the four are incarcerated en route.


Everything as you’d expect is neon-bright, even jungle fruit or for instance Alex the Lion’s dream of three steaks, each one with singing lips embedded in its T-bone as they’re waltzed by waitresses swinging them on in trolleys. It’s as daft and detailed as that. This is first-rate set design anchoring fantasy and dreams within dreams, edging us to the darkness of what it is to be a ravenous meat-eater in a land of vegetarians, where your pals might make a tasty pork scratching if you just run your teeth up their rump. Mmm.


All this as Chris Whybrow’s sound wraps itself in a zebra-hug round George Noreiega’s recorded score, supervised by Angharad Sanders where Mark Crossland’s ensures a big beast sound with a delicate roar: it never overwhelms the aural envelope and you can hear the singers.


Laura Rushton’s figure-hugging costumes score with Hippo Gloria’s surround-hips, and in Melman the Giraffe with his extended head, the sky scrapes the limit.


Max Humphries’ penguin and lemur puppets directed by Emma Brunton manage an aah! appeal with characterful touches, each penguin individually attired when they get to Antarctica. What’s so attractive is how Humphries’ creations integrate half-size with full-sized actors either behind or in in costumes. It’s a little world made cunningly, both see-through and transporting.


Kevin del Aguila’s book, with Noreiega’s music, Joel Someillan’s lyrics find a new way into this already iconic film which many of us haven’t seen. The numbers, particularly the Alex/Marty-led quartet ‘You’ve gotta friend’, are attractive and this and another ensemble piece by lemurs are memorable, as well as a sea-crossing number. Some older audience members knew them; they could be seen rocking in the Royal Circle.


The storytelling’s more compressed, the end is open-ended as indeed there are two sequels but who cares? I’m pretty happy everyone’s fetched up where they are. Oh and there is a pesky alternative to meat feasts. It’s called going pesci and involves sushi. And before the darkest episode in the musical. Will Alex turn cannibalistic?


It’s quite a way from the four friends and penguins who somehow escape from New York City Zoo only to find the subway’s a confusing place and as punishment, well, being shipped in crates to Kenya isn’t fun. but then those pesky penguins knock out the humans and set sail for Antarctica, of course, only there’s a but of a shipwreck. Oh the penguins get to Antarctica and decide straight off that they really like the heat too much. And head back to Madagascar where as it happens our four friends have been accidentally knocked overboard and washed up.


It all starts with Alex’s discontent at his tenth birthday, a midife crisis, where Brandon Gale taking over the role makes an appealing roar, more Parsley-meets-Clarence than anything else. It’s a lion-sized impression, and Gale well brings out the angsty liberal lion with a Trumpeting appetite. What to do?


His striped buddy Marty Zebra is pushed to comedic lengths as the long-suffering Antoine Murray-Straughan exalts in camp surprise at every daft decision Alex takes, but follows faithfully.


Timmika Ramsay captures hearts as Hippo Gloria with her pirouettes and vocals, and Jamie-Lee Morgan’s Melman the Giraffe is not only a miracle of physical theatre head-banging (that neck!) but a first-class neurotic with a whole swathe of psychiatrist and allergy appointments. The New York types here are all pretty recognizable. Subliminally children will know them from comedy. They can appeal here from about four years old.


Lemur King Julien’s Jo Parson is also resident director, and anchors visually too as the court crowd round him. It’s a strong performance occurring just in the second half, vocally and with a sot of comic gravitas, as serious as you can get with a bunch of blinking lemurs all pointing and chattering ‘it was him/her’.


Shane McDaid is Skipper Penguin and dance captain, able to guy the military with Matthew Pennington Penguin Lars, Laura Johnson the third and hapless Jessica Niles the last Private of the Penguin quartet. Victoria Boden as Rico completes the ten-strong ensemble, the latter group multi-roling and crouching behind penguin puppets.


So you might guess the rest of the plot, where the quartet defeat a carnivorous enemy, and maybe Alex finds something more than his friends to batten on when he’s hungry. The answer might surprise you. It certainly surprises Alex. And what then? Aah. This set of fables comes with a delicate existential lesson or two in tolerance, friendship an being true to yourself.


I think we can leave it there, don’t you? Highly Recommended for monkeys and lemurs of all ages – quite apart from lions, zebras, hippos and giraffes. And anyone else who wants to break out of any zoo they find themselves in.