Madagascar the Musical – a fun family show that makes you want to Move It Move It

Madagascar the Musical has returned to the Regent Theatre this week, and is every bit as timeless, comical and vibrant as the original Dreamworks movie released almost 20 years ago. I last caught it at the Hanley-based theatre back in 2019, and couldn’t wait to see it burst back onto the stage five years later, as much like the film, it’s one you can rewatch time and again, quoting the witty one liners and shimmying to the soundtrack.

The stage adaptation, which launched in 2018, stays true to the 2005 animation and never strays too far from the original script, which leaves millennials and above feeling nostalgic, while younger audience members get to experience it perhaps for the first time.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Alex the lion, and his best friends, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo have spent their whole lives in blissful captivity at New York’s Central Park Zoo with an admiring public and with regular meals provided for them. But on his 10th birthday, inspired by some escapee penguins, Marty lets his curiosity get the better of him and makes his getaway for ‘the wild’, his pals hot on his hooves in a bid to bring him back home.

Phil Tragen

We were first introduced to Marty and Alex – best buddies at New York’s Central Park Zoo, and that friendship is immediately apparent on set. Alex, played by Joseph Hewlett, gets the lion’s share of comedic scenes, including when he’s tranquilised with a dart and his hunger-induced steak song, which I must say was brilliantly sung for a musical where the vocal execution isn’t necessarily the main focus. Meanwhile, Fanceisco Gomez’s Marty gets the best score and choreography, with some hip-hop influences injected into some of the tracks, no doubt influenced by Hamilton, which arrived on stages three years earlier.

Gloria the hippo was hilarious, with a sassy attitude and a personality as big as her padded derriere as Jarnéia Richard-Noel channelled the likes of Cardi B and Nikki Minaj. And who can’t help but fall in love with hypochon-giraffe Melman, who was inventively portrayed by Joshua Oakes-Rogers with a puppet head on a very long stick, his awkward charm earning laughter and affection from the audience. The penguins are a firm favourite with the crowd, and the puppetry involved in bringing them to life is brilliant – the same goes for the lemurs. 

Phil Tragen

While Act One sets the scene and builds up the storyline, Act Two definitely sees a change of pace and is twice as entertaining as the first. One of the highlights of the show is undoubtedly Karim Zeroual’s lively performance as King Julien. The CBBC presenter and Strictly Come Dancing finalist spends his entire stage time running around on his knees, which needs an applaud in itself. He had the audience in tears laughing, but it’s of course the playful and catchy take on Real 2 Real’s 1994 hit I Like To Move It that had everyone clapping and dancing along.

As for the rest of the soundtrack, the original score is certainly fun, but not particularly memorable, though I did enjoy Best Friends, which does feature in the film Madagascar 2 Escape Africa. With the narrative being overfamiliar for many, the set quite minimalistic and at times, leaning a little into ‘children’s entertainment’ territory, borrowing tracks from elsewhere may have worked in their favour to keep older audiences more engaged, but in all it’s a very easy watch with some witty adult humour about 50 Shades of Grey and ‘inbreeding programmes’ thrown in.

Phil Tragen

At an hour and 45 minutes, it’s a short and sweet, energetic and colourful family friendly show filled with laughter, a fun script, and heartwarming moments. And as someone really passionate about getting younger people into theatres, it’s a show that will do just that. Whether you’re a fan of the original film or discovering these lovable characters for the first time, this musical will no doubt make you want to Move It, Move It!

Running at The Regent Theatre until Sunday, May 19, you can buy your tickets from as little as £13 here.

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