Chicago Theatre Review
They Like to Move It, Move It!
Madagascar—A Musical Adventure Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
After taking last summer off, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is back, with all canons firing, with another fabulous family musical comedy. Adapted from Dreamworks’ popular 2005 animated film by Kevin Del Aguila, with music and lyrics by George Noriega and Joel Someillan, this 70-minute musical is nothing short of spectacular. It’s wild and wacky and full of laughs, aimed at both children and the adults who accompany them to the theatre. Flashy, fantastic and just plain fun, this animated ball of fire will delight audiences of all ages.
Following a typical day of crowd-pleasing performances at the Central Park Zoo, Marty the zebra is surprised by a party thrown in his honor by his best friends. Alex the lion, Gloria the hippo and Melman the hypochondriac giraffe all help Marty celebrate his tenth birthday with a cake and gifts. But, after Marty blows out the candles, he confesses to his buddies that his secret birthday wish is to escape the confines of the zoo and return to The Wild.
But Marty’s not the only animal with escape on his mind. The zoo’s platoon of penguins, Private, Rico and Kowalski, have formed themselves into a well-disciplined army, led by their fearless leader,] Skipper. Together they’ve planned a mass exodus from New York City back to Antarctica. Marty decides to join them, going at least as far as The Wild, but his circle of friends, along with Mason the chimpanzee, end up accompanying the penguins on an ocean liner that soon runs amuck.
The shipwrecked animals find themselves in the jungles of Madagascar, an island ruled by Julian, King of the lemurs. His subjects, a gaggle of tiny, furry, “full-figured raccoons” are being preyed upon by the fossa, a pack of bloodthirsty carnivores. The lemurs truly appreciate the intruders’ assistance in rescuing them from their enemies and they welcome the zoo animals into their community. But eventually hunger consumes Alex and, finding it impossible to see his best friend as anything but a meal, he convinces Marty that his decision to run away was a big mistake.
The penguins, who’ve successfully commandeered the ocean liner once again, finally make it to Antarctica, only to discover that it wasn’t what they expected. They decide it would be best to return to the zoo, but decide to stop by Madagascar along the way to pick up their old friends. When they arrive they discover Alex wasting away and ready to devour everyone on the island. However, just as the fossa begin threatening the little lemurs again, Alex rises to the occasion and saves the day. He’s rewarded with sushi; and, since Alex is actually just a big cat, he finds that he likes the fishy treat even better than steak. All the animals rejoice and celebrate with wild abandon, dancing and singing, because “They like to move it, move it!”
Adapting a computer-animated cartoon for the theatre is a demanding task. However, Chicago Shakespeare is fortunate to have master director and choreographer Rachel Rockwell in the driver’s seat. Ably assisted by musical director Jermaine Hill and orchestrator Matt Deitchman they more than meet the challenge with a ferocious flair. Working with a stellar cast of some of Chicago’s finest, triple-threat talents, and accompanied by Hill and his brilliant backstage band, this production is top-notch. Although aimed at younger audiences, Rockwell’s production elicits thunderous applause and gales of laughter from every adult theatergoer, as well.
Every actor/singer/dancer is a star and among the finest from the Chicago professional talent pool. Gilbert Domally, making his CST debut, is hilarious, touching and demonstrates just the right amount of bravado as Marty the zebra. Always wondering if he’s black with white stripes, or white with black stripes, Domally’s Marty longs for a place where the grass is greener. In his quest, he also learns what it means to have really good friends on his side. Mr. Domally’s vocals and disco-infused dance moves make Marty a two-toned treat.
Returning to the CST stage, versatile Chicago talent Jordan Brown dons a Mick Jagger mane, transforming into fierce feline rockstar as Alex, the King of the Jungle and the Tzar of the Zoo. Brown proves that he’s not only got the visage and the voice, but all the right moves, as he powerfully sings and dances his way through this fable about friendship. As Alex struggles to combat his natural predatory instincts in The Wild, he always remains a faithful companion.
Lisa Estridge, a standout as the Sour Kangaroo in CST’s “Seussical,” is divine here as vivacious Gloria the hippo. Visually funny in her giant bouffant wig and wobbly fat suit, Ms. Dawan is a dream girl in every song and dance she performs. Stephen Schellhardt, a longtime favorite at so many area theatres around Chicago as a performer, choreographer and casting director, makes his Chicago Shakespeare debut. Here he recreates the role he played at the Marriott, employing his dry wit and self-deprecating humor to make Melman, the neurotic, hypochondriac giraffe, a beloved crowd-pleaser.
Using life-size puppets, beautifully created by Sarah Ross, to portray the penguin brigade and the lemurs, Erica Stephan, Adrienne Storrs, Tony Carter and, especially, Leah Morrow are sensational as Private, Rico, Kowalski and Skipper. Together they generate most of the high-octane energy that keeps this show in constant motion. Individually, each character has his own distinct personality, with the majestic Ms. Morrow leading the pack as a no-nonsense master-and-commander of this team of tuxedoed troopers. As the delightful lemurs, the bloodthirsty fossas and all the other supporting characters Ron King, Ciera Dawn, Hannah Rose Nardone and Garrett Lutz round out a gifted, energetic cast of supporting performers.
The always excellent and entertaining Aaron Holland returns to CST, having been seen recently in ATC’s “Xanadu,” is once again hilarious in this production. While playing multiple roles, he shines as the vainglorious lemur leader, King Julian. Talented Holly Stauder, whose sparkle lights up the stage in every role she undertakes, is very funny as several different characters, including a feisty, elderly New Yorker and the wryly humorous Maurice, King Julian’s royal advisor.
Chocked full of broad comedy, toe-tapping pop/rock hit songs and exciting choreography, this may be a musical aimed at young audiences, but theatergoers of all ages are bound to go wild for it. Costumed in Jesus Perez’s colorful, cleverly stylish and anthropomorphic costumes, with wigs and makeup by Richard Jarvie, this production is staged with spirit and heart by Rachel Rockwell. The show frolics all over Scott Davis’ magnificent scenic design, enhanced by projections by Shawn Sagady and Jesse Klug’s dazzling lighting. Set to the beat of an infectious musical score, this happy show delivers a message about the importance of friendship, while it fills the Court Stage with humor and joyful wordplay. By the end of the show, in a contagious finale that brings the entire audience to its feet, everyone joins in with the cast as they “Move it, move it.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 13-August 27 by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on their Courtyard stage at Navy Pier.
Tickets are available in person at the CST box office, by calling them at 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com