Melman, Gloria, Elex and Marty. Picture: Stuart Glover and Barry Martin

Madagascar - The Musical

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


If you find a zebra on your lawn or a hippo on your front drive – blame the penguins. They might be small, cuddly even if you give them their own show, like Happy Feet, but stick ‘em in a zoo and you are in trouble.

They are what started the The Great Escape at Central Park Zoo, chronicled in Dreamworks’ hit film back in 2005 and they are at it again in this musical stage version to the delight of a youngster heavy audience.

You see, all the animals are reasonably happy at the zoo, admittedly Marty the zebra gets a bit bored at times and has to be cheered up by Alex the lion, but they have free bed and board, free medical insurance and just have to act sort of animally each day in return. Once the zoo closes they can relax, all get together for chats, laughs, even birthday parties.

Except for the penguins, the snow patrol, who decide you can’t really chill out in a New York park so organise a breakout to head home to the icy wastes of Antarctica and . . . the wild.

And the idea of the wild gives Marty the wanderlust, a hankering for the rolling savannah of . . . Connecticut. World geography is not a known as a strength among zebras and, with limited knowledge, Connecticut was the nearest bit of wild he decided you could get to by train and be back by morning before you were missed at the zoo.

Francisco Gomes dons the Zebra suit with some style and along with Joseph Hewlett’ s Alex the Lion, form an unlikely likeable double act, displaying some fine voices.

The animal costumes are fun, at least for the audience, perhaps less so for the cast. Hewlett has to deal with a huge lion’s mane head gear and thunder thighs and the rest of the leading quartet have problems aplenty starting with Gomes and his generously padded hind quarters and giant ears.


Then there is Gloria, the hippo, played in her own personal sauna by Jarnéia Richard-Noel in a costume padded in all quarters as well as top, bottom, front and back. Jarnéia, incidentally, in her pre-hippo days, originated the role of Catherine of Aragon in Six, and she has a voice to die for.

She is also a great mover, even if she does look like Michelin man, along with Marty and Alex.

Melman the giraffe has his own problems – mainly his head on a stick with Joshua Oakes-Rogers at the end of a very long neck. Some nice lip sync at distance, mind you.

So, with Marty on the run his friends set out to find him and bring him back, so with a lion, hippo and giraffe on the loose in New York hunting for a zebra and a waddle of penguins (yes, that is the collective noun) on the run heading for Antarctica, perhaps questions might be asked about security at Central Park Zoo . . . just saying.

The result? Well the animal liberation collective find themselves in crates on a freighter heading for an Africa nature reserve, until the penguins stage a mutiny and make a rapid U-turn to head for Antartica causing the Zoo crates to fall overboard and float to Madagascar.

Antarctica, which, just to remind you, is cold and it gives us one of the best lines of the show as the four penguins arrive in their beloved Antarctic, sit on an ice flow and face their first snow storm.

“This sucks” declares their leader Skipper, and they waddle back on the boat for a warm and a journey home.

Meanwhile on Madagascar Alex and co are met by King Julien, the head honcho of the lemurs, played on Press night by Connor Keetley, on his knees, Shrek’s Lord Farquaad style, with lovely timing and sense of fun and the first get up and boogie number with I Like to Move It, which was also used as an encore.


Madagascar is where the drama is as Julien and his ring tail lemurs and assorted vegetarian subjects are in permanent fear of attack by the fossa – the fossa being a carnivorous cougar-like predator native to the island.

With Marty, Gloria and Melman all vegetarian it leaves carnivorous Alex out on a limb among the fruit and veg eaters and he finds himself on the dark side . . . with the fossa.

Friendship trumps hunger though and we end with the fossa in retreat, the boat back, hero Alex back in the fold munching penguin provided sushi, a party and a return to New York in sight.

It is a pity we didn’t get more of the penguins in the second half, they were the favourites of my grandchildren, and, from an adult perspective, provided most of the wit and droll humour in the hands of William Beckerleg as their leader Skipper, Laura Marie Benson as second in command  Kowalski, Ella Howlett as Rico and Brogan Mcfarlane as Private. Their cause was not helped though when two of penguin puppeteers ended up as lemurs in the second act.

The puppets from Max Humphries are simple but effective while Robert Allsopp’s costumes bring the characters to life on Tom Rodger’s simple set utilising a frame of animal crates with everything from frozen wastes to Grand Central station rolling on and off without a break in the action.

Fabian Aloise, perhaps with an eye on bulky costumes, keeps the choreography lively and interesting without making it too complex or demanding

Director Kirk Jameson keeps up a good pace and this Selladoor production gets a lot right for a young audience – for a start it is not too long, around 45 minutes each act, so the boredom , fidget, need the toilet threshold is not breached, scenes are short, there is plenty of colour and movement and most of the musical numbers are up beat.

There were a few sound problems, the usual curse of first night in a new theatre, which were slowly sorted as the show went on

I must admit I wasn’t too impressed with the Lord of the Flies dead paratrooper dropping down to represent the humans on the island. It seemed unfunny and unnecessarily ghoulish and all in all I was a little underwhelmed by it all, but then again, I am not the target audience and my grandchildren, who are, thoroughly enjoyed it and who am I to disagree. The beaming faces of many a happy and excited youngster as they left said it all

Madagascar was last in the Alex in 2018 and my grandchildren and what seemed to be all the children in the dress circle enjoyed it, most on their feet dancing along at the end, so it was a welcome return. So as a family show it ticks pretty well all the boxes, good clean fun with no awkward moments or double entendres to worry about. The penguins will be looking for an escape from the Alex to 16-03-24.

Roger Clarke


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