Madagascar The Musical – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre
By David Schuster, October 2018
The laughs begin immediately: “Please don’t take pictures or videos of tonight’s performance,” says a chimp, appearing from a packing case, “or I’ll throw poo at you.” Welcome to Madagascar The Musical, at the Alhambra, Bradford!
The story follows the adventures of a motley group of zoo animals, from confinement in Central Park to the wilds of Madagascar. The main characters; Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo and Melman the giraffe are all played by actors in full body suits. These cleverly, and humorously, exaggerate key aspects of the animals, Marty has huge thighs and Gloria a massive rear. They look hot to wear, and I’ve a lot of respect for the actors, who keep up energetic antics throughout the show.
“Humour for all ages”
That’s not the full list of animals by any means though. Lemurs, the chimp and the all-important brigade of penguins are realised through puppets. This is a great way of providing appropriate scale against the human performers. The puppets are expertly controlled, in a way that has now become familiar to audiences, by fully visible actors wearing costumes complementary to the scene in which they are in; keeper’s uniforms for the zoo, cartoon spies with dark glasses when the animals break out into the city.
Whilst primarily it’s aimed at the under twelves, it’s a production with humour for all ages and tastes. I’m considerably older than that, and I laughed a lot. There’s slapstick flatulence references – and what child doesn’t find breaking wind funny? The scene in which King Julian the 13th, played by Jo Parsons, is overwhelmed by Alex’s digestive emanations, is a visual tour de force.
However, there are subtler moments too. When Alex tries to talk to an old lady in the city, all she (and we) hear is a lion roaring, to comic effect. And there are some nice in-jokes; Marty is described as being in black and white, and never fifty shades of grey. As well as being funny, the central themes of friendship, support and sticking together through difficult times are valuable messages for children, relayed in a comic way.
As well as the jokes, there are some very enjoyable songs. Matt Terry (Alex), Timmika Ramsay (Gloria) and Antoine Murray-Straughan (Marty) all have excellent vocal skills. Sound quality throughout was crisp and clear, with no visible mikes. I especially enjoyed ‘King of New York City’ and ‘Who’s the Cat?’ However, the musical highlight has got to be the ensemble rendition of ‘I Like to Move It’, originally by Reel 2 Reel in the 90s and made famous by the film.
The inventive use of scenery also deserves a mention. From what initially appear to be stacked crates for animal transportation, are brought forth rocks, plants and even one of the towering Baobab trees, so characteristic of the island. In the opening zoo scene, the actors actually manipulate walls and bars around the stage, to represent the various different cages, whilst singing. My favourite use of the stage though was in the scene where the animals awake to find themselves in separate packing cases, with Alex and Marty’s boxes stacked on top of Gloria’s, and with Melman’s two-story crate to the side.
A packed house gave the cast a standing ovation for the closing number. Great family entertainment makes kids and adults laugh together. The Madagascar stage musical does just that, and does it well.