BWW Review: MADAGASCAR Rocks the House at Stages
What do you get when you mix a few displaced New Yorkers, a couple of hungry foosas, a fanciful lemur leader, and an enormous dancing steak? A crackalackin' romp of a good time, that's what!
DreamWorks' Madagascar, a Musical Adventure opens at Stages St. Louis with bright colors, zippy dance moves, and strong singing voices, welcoming its audience to the Central Park Zoo. We meet Gloria the hip-hip Hippo, played by the delightful Claire Manship; Marty the disheartened Zebra, played by a mostly convincing Jordan De Leon; and Melman the Giraffe, played by Daniel Moser, who delivers a heaping helping of humorous hypochondria. Shortly following, we meet Alex the Lion played by Erik Keiser, whose rock star entrance makes it clear he is the king of New York City. With several cleverly projected references to all the famous people with whom Alex has kept company--St. Louis Cardinals' Fredbird, Her Majesty the Queen, and both 2016 presidential candidates among them--this musical starts off on the right foot, appealing to kids and big kids alike with its savvy, multigenerational humor.
Marty, who faces a mid-life crisis at 10, makes a birthday wish to experience life in the wild. Somewhere really wild. Like Connecticut. After all, he can't even tell anymore if he's black with white stripes or white with black stripes! When he successfully escapes, his friends, who realize he's in danger, set out to rescue him. Soon though, their entire expedition is foiled by the NYPD, and the friends awaken to find themselves locked in crates on an ocean liner bound for a Kenyan wildlife preserve. The penguins, however, who have escaped the zoo with a plan of their own, overtake the ship with plans to reroute to Antarctica. But as everyone knows, silly penguins can't steer a vessel! After shipwrecking in Madagascar, the friends meet a lively cast of lemurs. "Are they squirrels?" Alex wonders. "Full-figured raccoons?"
The lemurs introduce their new acquaintances to their lemur leader King Julien, the "big cheese," the self-proclaimed king of everything he sees, who welcomes this "cavalcade of weirdos" to Madagascar in a most majestic fashion, with hopes of serving his own interests. Ryan Cooper incites huge giggles in the role of King Julien, with his ostentatious attitude and over-the-top costume of ferns, bug-eyed goggles, and palm fronds. King Julien also likes to move it move it, and he leads the company in a rockin' version of the familiar song from the movie, which amps the audience up and gets the whole house dancing. Now everyone on stage and everyone in the audience is having a grand time . . . except Alex, who has no food source in this wild, new place.
Alex chastises Marty for abusing the power of his birthday wish by transporting them all to this strange land where there are no fences and no food. When the situation gets dire enough that Alex, in an agitated state of hunger, bites his best friend Marty in the butt, Marty's reaction prompts big laughs.
The relatively low-stakes climax of the show comes as the friends must work together to scare off the foosas--creatures who have been hunting the lemurs--after which the entire company sings "Together Forever" while enjoying a rad beach party. And in the end, Alex decides sushi is way better than steak (and his bff's butt).
The first hearty chuckle comes early in the show when the penguins waddle whimsically onto the scene, and for the next hour and twenty minutes, the silliness doesn't stop. This cast playfully interacts with audience members (choose seats near the front at either house left or house right for your best opportunities) and performs from the aisles, making this show an interactive experience. The audience can't help but sing and clap along to this joyful celebration of friendship.
Brad Musgrove's costumes are carefully designed to develop each character, and feisty, fun dance moves by Choreographer Ellen Isom make this production a must-see. One word of caution - there is no intermission, so the smallest theatre patrons especially should visit the facilities before the show starts. And don't come looking for a deeply moving experience. This is a fun and funny family show where you will pick up some new jokes and have a good time clapping and dancing along.
It is more than a wild singing and dancing extravaganza, however. It is a classic fish-out-of-water story, where a cast of friends proves that there is nothing we can't conquer when we work together. If you like to move it move it, and you're up for lots of silly fun, including a big surprise during the musical number "Together Forever," be sure to catch this production.
DreamWorks' Madagascar, a Musical Adventure, plays now through July 1 at Stages St. Louis in the Emerson Family Theatre Series.