The Children’s Theater of Madison kicked off its season with the adorably entertaining “Madagascar – A Musical Adventure,” based on DreamWorks' animated motion picture. The show just finished its run at the Overture Center’s Playhouse theater on Sunday, Oct. 22.
The musical, running just over an hour, was definitely geared toward a younger audience; however, my inner-little-kid was ecstatic once the stage lights came up. The theater was packed with kids below the age of eight and their grandparents for the most part, but I did not mind. In fact, I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than a normal, grownup musical.
“Madagascar,” as I’m sure many know from the movie that came out just over 10 years ago, tells the tale of a group of talking Central Park Zoo animals who find themselves running free on the island of Madagascar. Their story is packed with all the essentials of an animated children’s movie — adventure, danger and, naturally, friendship. I cannot emphasize enough how cute the friendship aspect of this story is, complete with buddy duets, companion choreography and all the pal morale you can imagine.
Marty the zebra (the wonderfully vibrant Gilbert Domally) struggles to find his identity when confined to the boundaries of the Central Park Zoo. He even wonders aloud, “Am I black with white stripes or white with black stripes?” a personal favorite line from the movie. When Marty escapes into the wild New York City, his gang of loyal friends – Alex the attention-seeking lion (the fierce Robert A. Goderich), Gloria the sassy hippo (Lachrisa Grandberry) and Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (Jessica Jane Witham) – set off to find him. Somehow, they all wind up in the actual wild to the excitement of Marty and displeasure of Alex.
Who could forget the fan-favorite (and audience-favorite) spy penguins played by an astoundingly good group of young actors? Tessa Ginsberg, who portrayed Skipper the lead penguin, nailed the voice from the movie. Another crowd-pleaser was the eccentric King Julien played by the hilarious Caleb Mathura.
With endearing original music and lyrics by George Noriega and Joel Someillan, as well as a lovable book by Kevin Del Aguila, the show easily captivated the attention of dozens of toddlers. The amusing, pop-like music was accompanied by fun choreography that was easy to watch, especially during the infamously catchy “I like to move it, move it” number. The cast had relatively simple costumes, yet it was still easy to distinguish between the different animals. This may sound like a simple task, but it is imperative to children’s theater and was executed astutely.
The ambiance of the Playhouse Theater reminded me of the saying “good things come in small packages.” Even though the theater was tiny, the space created a charming intimacy between the actors and the audience. This was of course supplemented by the elementary nature of the show and the performers acting directly to the spectators. This didn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch, though. There was even some humor thrown in for the adults in the audience that the young audience members missed — my favorite was Melman’s snarky, “I wouldn’t take the train here! The people in this city, they’re animals!” Overall, there were few instances where I wasn’t grinning over the 65-minute runtime of the show.
The set was small but not feeble. It was accessible to the youngsters but still looked extremely professional: Cute and comprehensive with signs or props clearly designating the setting. The lighting design was beautiful, with a mirage of colors displaying the tone of each scene.
The show was, of course, immensely fun to watch, but some of the highlights of my time at the Overture Center came from the kids sitting in the audience. One of those moments for me was a conversation that transpired between a grandmother and her five-year-old grandson who were sitting next to me. The grandmother pointed to the set and asked him, “Do you remember the movie?” to which he cleverly replied, “What movie?” She responded, “'Madagascar!'” and he ingeniously answered, “Oh yeah! Is that what this is?”
Some may think that it’s kind of odd to go to a children’s musical as a college student — and maybe it is a little strange. However, in the midst of midterms and the ever-changing political climate of the world, we all could benefit from a break in reality now and then. Sometimes those breaks happen to be surrounded by adorable children taking in the arts, and it makes them that much better.