BWW Review: MADAGASCAR: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE at Gettysburg Community Theatre
My experience seeing the work of Gettysburg Community Theatre's Penguin Project on last season's The Wizard of Oz: Young Performers' Edition was so inspiring and transformative that I couldn't wait to see their project for the 2019 season. For those who may not be familiar with it, the Penguin Project was founded by Dr. Andrew Morgan in Illinois. The Penguin Project was designed to give children and teens with special needs the opportunity to perform in a theatrical production. In 2014, Gettysburg Community Theatre became the first theatre outside of Illinois to replicate the Penguin Project, and it has been going strong ever since. In their Penguin Project productions, children and teens with special needs are paired up with mentors. The mentors learn all the lines and choreography so that they can help their actor-basically they are like a shadow buddy on stage with the actors. It is amazing to watch these young people work together and depend on one another. I had the joy and privilege of seeing this season's Penguin Project show, Madagascar: A Musical Adventure, Jr, which is running just one weekend--August 16-18.
Right from the beginning the actors take charge of the stage-their energy is invigorating and contagious. In the very first scene, we meet Alex the Lion played by Hunter Minck, Marty the Zebra portrayed by Samuel Albert, Melman the Giraffe acted by Marcus Norrie, and Gloria the Hippo played by Janna Scott. These four young actors each embody the spirit of the character they are playing.
You can't help but feel sorry for Melman as he recounts his many ailments (Melman is a bit of a hypochondriac) because Marcus Norrie does such a great acting the part. Janna Scott as Gloria the Hippo reminds us all that it's good to have a positive outlook on life, and her sweet smile and delightful attitude bring her character to life.
Samuel Albert and Hunter Minck perform so well together as Marty the Zebra and Alex the Lion that their characters really do seem like best friends as they sing about in one of their songs. When Hunter Minck performs his song about wanting steak, don't be surprised if your stomach growls-his emotion, energy, and facial expressions really shine in that song. And when Samuel Albert sings about wanting to be wild and free at the beginning of the show, the whole audience can feel his excitement and longing. The mentors for these characters, Liliana Hoedemaker, Hailey Brownley, Aidan Higgins, and Ivy Neives are also amazing, as they stay in character but are able to be unobtrusive so that their actors can really shine.
Of course in any production of Madagascar, we depend on the Penguins and the Lemurs for great comedy, and the actors in this production do not disappoint. The Penguins, led by TJ Williams as Skipper the Penguin, include Ella Scot as Kowalski, Dustin Miller as Rico, and Kasey Duncan as Private, along with their mentors Kalia Hoedemaker and Arya Harris. This group really nails the penguin walk and attitude. The Lemurs, which feature Leah Watson as King Julien, Myka Walker as Maurice, Victoria Carver as Mort & Lynn (with mentor Emma Greenawalt), Cassie Smith as Lee (with mentor Tessa Trax), and Kaleigh McMaster as Lew (with mentor Rylee Groft), remind us all that it's important to have fun and to find our paradise. Their song "Move It, Move It" is clearly a favorite among the cast, which makes it a favorite for the audience.
The fearsome carnivores, the Foosa, include Gillian Scott, Amaree Brown, Isabella Humphrey, Danny Barton (with mentor Sydney Christner), and are led by Payton McInturff (with mentor Lillian Smith). My favorite scene with the Foosa is when Marty the Zebra runs into their territory to try to bring Alex the Lion back home with him, and the Foosa start to slowly and threateningly close in on Marty. Many of the Foosa also play other roles on stage, including as zookeepers and members of the ensemble.
Rounding out this talented cast are William Lyston as Mason the Monkey and the ensemble, which included Devin Harry (with mentor Hannah Hoffman), Olivia Hacking and Addelyn Hacking (with mentor and brother Aden Hacking), and Katelyn Norrie (with mentor Noelle Wheeler). These young actors took on a variety of roles throughout the show, appearing as servers, animals, New Yorkers, camera men, police, and more. They took on each character with enthusiasm and zeal.
Madagascar: A Musical Adventure, Jr. featuring the actors and mentors of Gettysburg Community Theatre's Penguin Project is an uplifting, enjoyable, and fun adventure, and everyone involved in the production deserves a hearty round of applause. Just as Marty, Alex, Gloria, and Melman look out for one another and help one another in the story, all of the actors look out for one another and help one another on stage, and it is a magical experience. If you are a theatre lover and you have not yet experienced a Penguin Project performance, you are missing out. While the last show for Madagascar is today, there will be many more opportunities to catch a Penguin Project show in the future. Just sign up for Gettysburg Community Theatre's newsletter through their website www.gettysburgcommunitytheatre.org and like them on Facebook for more information about future shows and how you can help support Gettysburg Community Theatre's Penguin Project.