Chalk up one more cartoon feature making a dash for freedom under the footlights. Madagascar—A Musical Adventure is now filling the intimate Red Branch Theatre with a veritable Noah’s Ark of singing, dancing animal friends. Young viewers especially will find themselves the happy captives of this class menagerie.
Based on the 2005 DreamWorks Animation feature film, this adaptation debuted as recently as 2016, with a couple of tunes from the film but mostly new songs by George Noriega and Joel Someillan. Already a hit with youth theaters nationwide, the show’s staging in Columbia, Maryland, is billed as its area premiere.
Top local Director Jenny Male deserves the lion’s share of credit for “bringing ’em back alive.” Mixing lemurs and penguins and a hypochondriac giraffe could have gotten messy. But Male returned from safari with a terrifically talented cast of young featured creatures.
In his black-and-white-striped mohawk and matching striped shirt and pants, Bryan Thompson makes for an effervescent zebra named Marty. It’s Marty’s tenth birthday party at New York’s Central Park Zoo, and that has set him yearning to go off in search of a new life, “Wild and Free.”
When Marty escapes, it’s up to the others to find him before he gets in trouble, eventually leaving them all in cages on a ship bound for Madagascar.
Leading the rescue party is Alex the lion, played by a cheerfully confident Ben Ribler. His sentimental side is well conveyed in the duet “Best Friends,” and later we feel his pain when he gets so hungry he considers having Marty for lunch—and not in a friendly way, either.
Gloria the hippo is another big softie as played with charm and brassy assurance by Taylor Washington. She is one of the scene-stealers in that winning opening ensemble number, “It’s Showtime.”
Danny Bertaux is just as much of a hoot playing Melman, that germ-phobic giraffe. It’s clear he is singing as much to himself as to the others in “Relax, Be Cool, Chill Out.” It’s another song guaranteed to appeal to first-time ticket-buyers.
You like penguins? How about lemurs? Red Branch has them all, plus less friendly creatures known as fossas. They are amusingly presented by an array of delightful supporting players: Lauren Alberg, Angeleaza Anderson, Liliana Evans, Megan Henderson, Sarah Luckadoo, Molly Mayne, Diego Esmolo, and Sierra Young.
In future seasons, though, this mounting of Madagascar will most likely be recalled in two parts: the half before the arrival of Rick Westerkamp and the half after the arrival of Rick Westerkamp. His explosive enthusiasm in the featured role of King Julien, the head ring-tailed lemur, is superbly matched to the maniacal camp of “I Like to Move It.” Even with his arm in a sling Westerkamp can sling a tune with the best of them.
Costume Designer Jackie Rebok works wonders on a tight budget, mostly giving the animals an imaginative “kind of see it” impression of their species. Penguins wear orange-billed caps and tuxedos, for instance, and King Julien rocks it in a legless jumpsuit and yellow spectacles and cape.
The energetic choreography by the creative team of Jenny Male, Angeleaza Anderson, and Sarah Luckadoo is all that’s needed to keep the show on its toes—better make that its paws and hooves.
Scenic Designer Jacob Cordell suggests zoo cages, sandy shores, and even a highjacked ocean freighter with just a few moving props, helped along by Lighting Designer Helen Garcia-Alton.
Also happily, Dustin Merrell is back in his accustomed position behind the baton, leading a nifty off-stage band that never drops a cue nor adds a sour note.
Congratulations to the team at Red Branch Theatre Company for once again coming up with a fun family alternative to the seasonal offerings abounding elsewhere. This musical amounts to a holiday gift from Red Branch Theatre Company— a package of pure animal magnetism that should be red meat for young theater-lovers.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Madagascar: A Musical Adventure plays through December 23, 2017, at the Drama Learning Center, 9130-I Red Branch Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-997-9352, or purchase them online.