Madagascar Jr

Madagascar Jr is the stage musical version of the 2005 children’s movie, a charmingly simple story of friendship amongst lovable animals.

A show like this should be a runaway success

A group of zoo creatures in New York City escape, are caught, get put in crates and shipped to Kenya. However, they fall overboard mid-journey and are washed ashore at Madagascar, where they struggle to adjust to what should be their natural habitat. The crew’s natural leader is Alex the Lion, but his best friendship with Marty the Zebra is threatened by Alex’s love of steak and the machinations of current Madagascan kingpin, the villainous Julien the Lemur. There are lots of catchy songs (like ‘Relax, Be Cool’) along the way to, obviously, a happy ending. It also contains the wonderful line about young children “they are so cute - from a reasonable distance”, which makes all in the audience laugh.

This show is straightforward but expensive to stage in a long run at a large professional theatre, much harder to stage at the Fringe in a necessarily scenery-light one-hour show. So why choose to bring it here? Platform YP is a Berkshire-based musical theatre school of 3-18 year-olds who aspire to a career in the industry that has had considerable success in securing West End castings and a range of other theatre, TV and commercial placements. The young people have raised £22,000 to be here, presumably to show that they can sing, dance and act; to catch the eye at Edinburgh.

That was clearly Aimee Brotherton’s plan as King Julien – and boy does she come out fighting. Aimee’s confidence and swagger lifts the performance every time she rolls onto stage. Rob Barlow has some great lines as Alex the Lion (“children love me”) and a gleaming white smile (making the line “I got the teeth” particularly funny) but it would be nice to see the rest of him sparkle more. Why is he hidden in the second row during the dancing? I want to see the hero stride forward, front and centre stage, and own the house. This is too cowardly a lion.

The penguins are fun and the wider company clearly enjoy themselves but it is frustrating to see young performers so undermined by the technical aspects of the show. There is a real problem with audibility, with no microphones used to enhance the performers’ sound. Even when the leads speak from backstage while apparently in crates aboard ship, there is no microphone and this makes their dialogue very difficult to hear. The audibility problem is amplified further by a loud whirring fan in the corner and music that overpowers the vocals in both song and speech. At the same time, the one thing that really needs sound cue support, Alex’s roar, gets nothing. The company seems uncomfortable at times on a big thrust stage and it would be nice to see more confidence teased out of them.

A show like this should be a runaway success with young children watching but all the fidgeting rippling through the youngest in the audience told the story of an opportunity missed here. More energy and attack from the cast, please, and improved audibility.

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Reviews by Ben Ludlow

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The Blurb

Join Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the hip-hip Hippo and, of course, those hilarious, plotting penguins as they bound onto your stage in the musical adventure of a lifetime. Based on the smash DreamWorks animated motion picture, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure Jr follows all of your favourite crack-a-lackin’ friends as they escape from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo and find themselves on an unexpected journey to the madcap world of King Julien’s Madagascar.

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