Just a few weeks ago I met Andrew Papas and other members of the Madagascar the Musical cast. Rehearsals had just begun, props were scattered around, dance steps were being performed on repeat and it was hard to see how it was all going to come together in time.
Fast forward several weeks and I found myself taking my seat in the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, my 8-year-old son in tow, ready to be entertained. The way I figured it, if Madagascar the Musical could keep my energetic and easily bored child in his seat for over an hour then this was a production worth seeing.
In addition to Papas, the all-New Zealand cast also featured LeRoi Kippen who, as Marty, was an absolute joy, strutting his sizeable zebra rump with attitude. Kristin Paulse oozed charisma as Gloria, while Ben Freeth became more Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe, with every sneeze.
Kippen's on-stage chemistry with Papas as Alex really stood out in the first half, with the focus being very much on the two unlikely friends and their differing views on freedom. It was really the second half, however, when Marty, Alex, Gloria and Melman find themselves stranded on Madagascar, that things got really fun.
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There would be few people out there who need a rundown of the plot from here, but in essence, the four friends find themselves marooned, with only a despotic lemur to guide them. Meanwhile, Alex finds himself struggling not to eat his friends and so on, I'm sure you remember.
The arrival of King Julien, the emotionally imbalanced, egomaniacal lemur leader, was laugh-out-loud entertainment at its best. Jonathan Martin did his entire performance as King Julien on his knees, so as to be the right height for the character. Singing and dancing on his knees could not have been an easy or pain-free experience, but he didn't miss a beat and his rendition of I Like to Move It had even the most reluctant of heads bopping along.
The famously plotting penguins were also a lovely lighter note in the show. However, costume limitations meant that the magic was lost a little at times. Cole Johnston was particularly convincing as the penguin leader, known as Skipper, and more of his unpredictable charm would not have been unwelcome.
This was not a big-budget production - unlike other lion-related musicals you may have seen touring lately - which might mean that sets were simple and costumes required a little more suspension of disbelief, but that is where the difference ends. In the hands of an incredibly talented New Zealand cast, this kid-friendly adaptation of the popular DreamWorks film was exactly what it needed to be - a whole lot of fun.
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