Theatre Review: Madagascar Jr – The Wild Bunch Abroad, Or Animal Magnetism

March 21, 2023




Madagascar Jr – A Musical Adventure / Directed by Jill Gerard and Keith Smith / Peoples Theatre, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


There are a number of aspects that make the DreamWorks film Madagascar – and any other kind of entertainment based on it – an easy sell for young audiences. For a start, the characters are all animals, and species with which most locals will be familiar (lions, zebras, hippos and giraffes are staples of a Kruger National Park holiday, for instance), with penguins and lemurs both perennial favourites for anyone visiting a zoo housing these creatures. Then there is the music – particularly the centrepiece, I Like To Move It, led by the benignly bonkers lemur leader, King Louis – which offers a guaranteed singalong.. Add to this constant energy and sharp, regular gags, and it’s a show that leaves a happy smile on the faces of audience members of all ages.

Performers in children’s theatre need to handle a lot, from more subtle technical ideas like acting a little bit larger to make sure their messages get across clearly to somehow hitting all of their musical, acting and choreographic marks while encased in large, hot, heavy costumes. Lesedi Mpshe, as Melman the giraffe, does wonderfully in the latter regard, with his character’s neck and head towering four feet above his head, meaning he requires incredible spatial awareness to not wipe out a lighting right or concuss a colleague. And he both moves beautifully and does excellent face acting to boot (even though his face emerges from the bottom of Melman’s throat.

Luciano Zuppa is both gruff and warm as Alex the lion and Manyano Ngoma as Marty the zebra – who incites the plan to escape the New York Zoo that is at the heart of the production – is engaging and funny. Best in show (to use an animal-related phrase), though, is Raymond Skinner as King Julien (he also plays a few other smaller characters). He gives Julien the same manic mix of hyperactivity, joy and misplaced self-belief as Sacha Baron Cohen does in the film and is at the forefront of the massed choreography for I Like To Move It that is repeated a couple of times and gets the audience as buzzed as the whole-hearted cast appear to be.

The production is compact and details are kept simple, including the costume, which look good but are starting to show signs of wear (and no wonder, given how much the characters move). But no extra gloss is needed for a musical that will make everyone who sees it feel upbeat and chirpy.