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Review: Madagascar the Musical (UK and Ireland tour)

Review by Sophie Wilby


Madagascar The Musical is based, unsurprisingly, on the 2005 Dreamworks Animation film Madagascar. It will be a story familiar to many, as the film itself was a huge hit when it was first released. Though Alex the lion (Joseph Hewlett) is happy with his life as the main attraction, his best friend Marty the zebra (Francisco Gomes) dreams of a life in the wild. On his 10th birthday, he decides that it’s time for an adventure, and escapes into the jungle of New York City. As Alex and his other two, perhaps unlikely, friends Gloria the hippo (Jarneia Richard-Noel) and Melman the giraffe (Joshua Oakes-Rogers) catch up with him, they are caught and transported across seas to a wildlife reserve. With thanks to some rather pesky penguins, however, they end up marooned in Madagascar where they meet some interesting locals. But would this production be as wild of a success as the film or a total shipwreck? 

Much like its characters, the musical has been all over the world on tour since it was first performed in 2018. The present UK tour began in October 2023 and is now spending 3 nights at the New Wimbledon Theatre. 

Before I delve into the review, I wanted to say that I am certainly not the target audience for this production - I am probably about 20 years too old for it. It is clearly directed at families with younger children, and the run time of just 1 hour 45, including a 20-minute interval, reflects that. I am sure that if you were to ask some of the children in the audience for their review, it would be an easy 5 stars, but unfortunately, in my old age, I didn’t quite feel the same. Having said that, I was hoping that as someone who was certainly the target audience when the film was released, and who has fond memories of it, I would have been left with the same warm, nostalgic feeling I had when I saw Spongebob The Musical but unfortunately, it didn’t always deliver. 

Though I can’t quite put my finger on the root cause of this, I felt that the production lacked a certain charm and substance. Even though Kevin Del Aguila’s book borrowed plenty of classic lines from the original movie, the delivery of them within this production fell a little flat. Of course, stepping into the shoes of comedy giants such as Ben Stiller (Alex, the lion, in the movie) and Eddie Murphy (Marty, the zebra, in the movie) is certainly a challenge but whilst comparison may be a little unfair, it is to be expected and unfortunately, such a comparison did not work in the show’s favour. There was also a certain lack of chemistry between the characters so their interactions at times felt stilted and unnatural (which is maybe a poor choice of word when considering that any Zebra being best friends with a Lion is unnatural). I have to give kudos, however, for surviving for so long in those costumes (designed by Tom Rogers) on one of the first really warm days of the year. 

What really distinguishes this production from the movie is the addition of the original music by George Noriega and Joel Someillan. This allowed the cast to shine, with a notable performance from Joseph Hewlett in his jazzy rendition of ‘Steak’ which even as an almost lifelong vegetarian, had me craving a trip to Flat Iron. However, it was predictably King Julian (Karim Zeroual) who stole the show was his performance of ‘I Like to Move It’ which had the crowd on their feet, clapping along. Zeroual, more generally speaking, delivered the stand-out performance for me. Perhaps due to his background with CBBC, he successfully treads the line between acting for children and over-acting which at times, other cast members were less successful with. 

In homage to the animated film, the puppetry design (Mac Humphreys) adopts a cartoon style so that the characters are instantly recognisable. Unfortunately, the cuteness of this animation is lost a little on stage as the wide-eyed puppets cannot convey emotion in the same way, resulting in a slightly stilted, hollow impression on stage. This perhaps, is partly what contributed to the production lacking a little charm for me. 

More successful was the clever set design by Tom Rogers. Though relatively minimal, it was effective at transforming the stage into various locations, delighting the audience with secret reveals. This transformation was complimented with the lighting, designed by Howard Hudson, which works to create a captivating visual experience, particularly when the illusion of a Madagascan sunset is beautifully shown. 

While this production may not have been a roaring success for an adult in the audience, the sheer joy on the faces of some of the children in the audience was a real pleasure to see. If this is the musical that inspires a new generation to fall in love with musical theatre, then that is certainly no bad thing. 

Madagascar the Musical continues to tour the UK and Ireland until September 24th

For tickets and information visit



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