By BRUCE DENNILL
Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr / Directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith / People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein
Dreamworks’ Madagascar films are explosions of colour, humour, questionable zoological research and child-friendly truisms. This musical stage adaptation has to deliver similar levels of energy and accessibility in order to keep young audiences engaged and, to its considerable credit, this People’s Theatre production never struggles in that regard.
The theatre’s compact stage means that the cast’s constant movement requires acute awareness of where all the sharp corners of the set are, as well as the other actors – particularly the kids, who must be difficult to see in the limited field of vision provided by the costumes of the four leads.
That quartet of actors – Alex the Lion (Luciano Zappa); Gloria the Hippo (Joelle Rochecouste); Marty the Zebra (Thokozani Jiyane) and Melman the Giraffe (Marvin Molepo) give whole-hearted performances, showing all the commitment necessary to emote and dance well while completely enveloped by their hot, heavy costumes. Jemma-Claire Weil and Bradley Hartmann multi-task in a selection of other roles, with the latter’s King Julien (the lemur king of Madagascar) the unquestionable scene-stealer of the piece as a whole. Hartmann is relatively new to the theatre circuit but is clearly a high-level triple-threat, and a name to look out for.
The excellent preparation overseen by directors Jill Gerard and Keith Smith is evident in the collective confidence of the children performing in the story and in the certainty of the company as a whole regarding which marks to hit and when. With the level of activity in the audience being so much higher during children’s theatre productions, there must be an extra level of focus needed to remain undistracted as an actor, and this cast’s sure, smooth delivery speaks of excellent discipline to go with obvious talent.
The movie connection may help from a marketing perspective, but Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr stands sturdily on its own as vibrant, enjoyable theatre.