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REVIEW: Madagascar at Sunderland Empire

The Kids Like To Move It, Move It

Madagascar – A Musical Adventure
Sunderland Empire 
Until Saturday 1st September 2018

Madagascar nicely fills the niche as a perfect show to finish the summer holidays with if your kids are aged 5 to 11. Following the story of the massive hit animation movie, with friendly characters, it had the excited younger members of the audience happily discussing how great it was as they left.

Indeed the characters are more approachable than we found the ones in Shrek. But. There is going to be a “but” here. But the show may leave older children (perhaps aged 12ish - 99) feeling out of it. I remember seeing a similar show (Animal Kwackers) in the 70s and loving it, but I was amazed when my Dad told me what he thought afterwards! Anyhow, it is time to rediscover my 10 year old self and review the show.

The show opens with the music from Born Free and Marty (Antoine Murray-Straughan) is on the open stage waking up. Quickly the set is built up around the zebra and suddenly he is in the centre of New York enclosed in a zoo.

It is Marty’s 10th birthday and his friends want to celebrate it with him. We have Alex the lion, and central attraction at the zoo (Matt Terry, who won the X Factor in 2016). Melman (Jamie Lee-Morgan) is the giraffe who is a bit of a “sick note”, and completing the friendship group is Gloria (Timmika Ramsey) the confident hippopotamus.   As Marty blows out his birthday candle, he makes a wish – the wish to be free in the wild. Of course, born in captivity, Marty has no idea what is out there. Indeed, his friends tell him how great the zoo is with the regular supply of food. Elsewhere in the park are a number of penguins who are also plotting to get back to where they belong.

The journey follows the same route as the movie. Escape from the zoo leads to a tour of New York before they are recaptured and put in crates to be shipped off elsewhere.

This then leads to a very abrupt end to the first act. There was surprise from those around me as the lights went up as it wasn’t entirely clear what the predicament was for our band of friends.

Fortunately, all is revealed, and the storyline quickly sorts itself in the better of the two halves: act two. The second part involves 2 clear songs that will get the audience moving and the more action packed/funny end of the tale.  The show finishes on a positive high, thanks in no small part to the addition of King Julien (Jo Parsons) on the island of Madagascar itself.

Does it help to have a working knowledge of the original film? Yes, probably. We had the DVD and my son watched it a few times when he was younger. You may be left baffled by the sudden change in the action if you’ve never seen it.

The staging is effective, the zoo’s barriers quickly spin and change to give the desired effect, the set can move from open expanse to closed in captivity with ease. The set narrows the naturally wide performance space of the Empire. But the smaller area and the quieter sound make the show more children friendly. Some musicals recently have been very loud, perhaps warranting ear protecting for the younger audience member’s ears, but that is not the case in this show. The softer sound helps make the characters seem more approachable.

There are a number of great singing voices amongst the central characters. You can see how Matt Terry won the X-Factor but great contributions come from Timmika Ramsey, Antoine Murray-Straughan and Jamie Lee-Morgan. There is some nice movement during the dance numbers too. The ensemble cast work well together and there is warmth coming from the stage that is sometimes lacking in shows with a large number of costumes. Director Kirk Jameson and Choreographer Fabian Aloise keep a tight ship and the action flows at a nice pace.

The show relies heavily on some great puppetry. These are well-handled and just like in the movie, the penguins often find themselves with many of the best lines in the show.

The movie wasn’t perfect, and some of the issues have precipitated themselves across to the stage, but we are still left with a pleasant, enjoyable show for the younger member of the family. No wonder the original film took over £530 million at the box office. Approachable characters, in a familiar story, engage with the kids well. The shorter running time (100 minutes including interval) too will stop the show becoming dull for the little ones with shorter attention spans.  This production is an ideal end to the summer holiday.

Review by Stephen Oliver
Photos: Scott Rylander

On The Web:
Twitter @MadUKTour

Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online from our affiliates ATG Tickets **

*Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings

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