By Heidi Sutton
It’s been 14 years since the world was first introduced to Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo in DreamWork’s computer-animated comedy “Madagascar.” Since its release, there have been two sequels, a spinoff (“Penguins of Madagascar”) and more recently a stage adaptation.
The latter opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last weekend in the form of “Madagascar A Musical Adventure Jr.,” a show for kids performed by kids, and the end result is a fabulous afternoon of live theater. Sitting in the balcony during last Saturday’s performance, I was quickly reminded of just how clever and funny and entertaining this story is.
Living the good life at the Central Park Zoo, Alex (Hunter Pszybylski), Gloria (Gianna Oppedisano) and Melman (Jacob Christie) help Marty (Thomas Lau) celebrate his 10th birthday. When asked to make a wish, Marty wishes he can go back to the wild (aka Connecticut). Moments later he escapes with “cute and cuddly” penguins, Rico (Ari Spiegel), Kowalski (Hannah Waller), Private (Laurie Kratochvil) and Skipper (Max Lamberg) who are determined to get back to Antarctica “where we belong, on the ice.”
When Marty’s friends go looking for him, the entire group is cornered in the halls of Grand Central Station by the zookeepers and tranquilized. When they awaken, they find themselves in crates on a ship headed to a wildlife preserve in Africa. When the penguins escape their confinement and seize the ship, their antics cause the crates to fall overboard and the four friends wash up on the shores of Madagascar.
There they are met by King Julien (Zachary Podair), his sidekick Maurice (Emily Warner) and a tribe of ring-tailed lemurs who hope that Alex can protect them from the terrible foosa, cat-like animals that “are always trespassing, interrupting our parties and ripping our limbs off!” However, when Alex’s stomach starts rumbling and the lemurs can only offer him seaweed on a stick, things take a turn for the worse.
Expertly directed by Tommy Ranieri, the young cast (19 in all) do an excellent job bringing the personalities of these zany characters to life in this musical about the importance of friendship.
The songs are executed perfectly with special mention to “Relax, Be Cool, Chill Out,” “Best Friends,” “Steak,” and the big dance number “Living in Paradise” with fresh choreography by Ryan Cavanagh.
Costumes are simple but cleverly designed by Ronald Green III with the outfits matching the zoo animal’s colors with an orange wig for Alex’s mane, while his monochromatic friend Marty sports a mohawk. The set, used from the current main stage production, features panels that change to reveal different scenery and the show uses fog and incredible sound effects in telling the story.
The finale, a rousing rendition of “I Like to Move It” led by King Julien himself, is the icing on the cake. Meet the main cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, presents “Madagascar Jr.” through Oct. 27. Up next is a main stage production of “Annie” from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20 and then children’s theater continues with “Shrek the Musical Jr.” For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.
All photos by Courtney Braun