Andrew Papas smiled at us in the large studio mirror as he finished applying his Alex the Lion make-up. It was the first time Papas had donned full make-up and costume to transform into the loveable, slightly narcissistic DreamWorks character, but you wouldn't know it. Entering the room moments later, decked out in golden muscle-stacked fabric, Papas was the very embodiment of the friendly lion.
Moving about the room as we took photographs, it was Alex who smiled back at us, not Papas. His energy every bit the friendly lion with a sense of humour and a frustratingly charming cluelessness.
"He is a very fun-loving character," said Papas of Alex, "but everyone else is probably not as into him as he is into himself." Papas also admitted that being in costume for the first time is helping him get into character better.
"It's quite hard to be an animal, but I put the costume on and I feel like a lion," laughed Papas.
Having landed the lead role of Alex in Madagascar The Musical, Papas found himself suddenly thrust into gruelling daily rehearsals, which is no mean feat as the stay-at-home dad of a 4-month-old baby.
Papas and his wife Megan, of ZM radio fame, welcomed their first child, Bastian, earlier this year and while the proud dad boasts of his son's enviable sleep record, trying to suddenly fit in rehearsals has taken some spy-level logistics.
"It's a bit hectic," admitted Papas, who has to drop Bastian off with Megan at work in a carefully timed exchange that would be envied by Olympic relay runners.
"Megan and I, we still have our ambitions, so he just kind of got on board," Papas said of his son.
Bastian even played a role in the audition process, albeit a not overly helpful one. While trying to video his audition, Papas said, Bastian trying to join in on the noise-making and Megan ended up juggling him on her hip off camera, while delivering lines at the same time.
Madagascar The Musical toured the UK and prior to Covid it seemed that the plan was to bring the whole show out to New Zealand. In the end, the props and the costumes made the journey to NZ shores alone, with a Kiwi cast filling those empty musical shoes.
Papas, who has an impressive history in musical theatre and was also a member of well-known pop group Titanium is clearly the perfect Alex. Joining him are Kristin Paulse as Gloria, Ben Freeth as Melman and Le Roi Kippen as Marty.
When asked what he is most looking forward to in the show, Papas resounded: "I have this number called Steak and it is this big, fun show-topping number, I love performing that."
Madagascar The Musical will be live on stage:
Auckland, July 8-18
Wellington, August 4-15
Christchurch, August 18-22
Tickets are on sale from madagascarthemusical.co.nz