As Jo Parsons dressed as a four foot King Julien the lemur shuffles to the centre of the stage and announces that he does in fact - predictably - like to move it, move it, he likes to… move it, the accompanying music starts and the on-stage protagonists, Alex the lion (X-Factor winner Matt Terry), Marty the zebra (Antoine Murray-Straughan), Gloria the hippopotamus (Timmika Ramsay) and Jamie Lee-Morgan's Melman the giraffe join the rest of the cast in an undeniably catchy, entertaining and incredibly surreal segment where a bunch of human beings dressed as animals dance and sing their way round stage, the child in front of us begins fist pumping. The kid has been quiet the whole way through the show, sitting comfortably, not laughing too loudly, but simply cannot contain himself as the song he has clearly been waiting for bursts into action. By the end of the segment, he simply sits in his seat, both arms in the air like he’s just won the lottery. Time of his life.
The boy represents the crowd, in all age brackets, pretty well to be honest. Madagascar the Musical has a slow start. The in-zoo segments and build up to the arrival of the escaped animals on the African island is predictable and offers little in original scripted entertainment. It is exactly that - build up - but it’s also the first half of the show, right up to the interval, so it’s a shame it didn’t offer a few more laugh out loud moments or hooking moments, and with great vocals from each of the leading cast, it’s a shame there’s not more original, engaging and innovative musical instrumentation too. Live musical performances with more focus would add a lot to the show.
This first period isn’t awful. We like that it’s narrative focused and respects the young audience instead of leading with a couple hundred fart jokes, but it’s missing an edge. That edge comes in the form of King Julien. When he hits the stage at the start of part two, when the set - which is exquisite, imaginative and a real high-point throughout - is transformed into Madagascar, the writers, the cast and the audience as a result are all having a lot more fun.
King Julien dabs at one point. It happens. Of course it happens. It’s actually quite funny. The child in front of us decided that when it did happen, this was also his cue to dab three times in a row. Give the kids what they want. There are just more jokes in general written into the script in this half though, and a lot of them land as well. The musical numbers are stronger. Alex the lion becomes a bit less cringey and is given an actual arc. His engagements with King Julien are fantastic. Melman’s dry sense of humour comes through in abundance and his character becomes a standout.
The show ends with a return to one of the best musical numbers of the second period, and by the end the audience is on their feet, clapping, dancing, fist pumping as appropriate, and most importantly, having a great time.
It may not be the perfect hour and a half, but you’ll leave Madagascar the Musical with a smile on your face, and if you've got a family, your kids are sure to love it if not at the start, then by the end.