Madagascar the movie was a bright and colourful animated romp that took its audience from the clinical confines of Central Park Zoo to the crazily chaotic wild kingdom of the lemurs.
This slight but charming stage musical version of the 2005 Dreamworks film treads much the same path, in energetic fashion - and with a familiar quartet of diminutive monochrome Houdinis at the helm.
Marty the zebra (Antoine Murray-Straughan) yearns to broaden his horizons beyond the bars of his Manhattan home, so following the example of a deadpan gang of escapologist penguins, he flees the zoo in search of wide-open plains.
Followed by Alex the lion (X Factor winner Matt Terry showcasing an easy, mellow tone), Gloria the hippo (Timmika Ramsay) and Melman the ‘hypochongiraffe’ (Jamie Lee-Morgan), the animal friends soon find themselves unwitting cargo on a boat bound for Africa.
Washed ashore on a Madagascan beach, they encounter the pleasure-seeking lemurs, led by Jo Parsons’ scene-stealing King Julien who – fans of the film will be pleased to hear – still likes to move it, move it.
He likes to move it...Jo Parsons as King Julien. Photos by Scott Rylander
Will the hungry Alex succumb to temptation and let nature trump nurture by taking a chunk out of his best friend? Will Marty learn that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side? Will the penguin posse ever reach Antarctica?
The plot might be rather thin, but director Kirk Jameson and choreographer Fabian Aloise keep what action there is sharp and snappy, and the modest-sized cast create some lovely vocal harmonies over what has to be said is a disappointing recorded backing track.
But there’s visual and vocal pleasure to be had from Alex’s psychedelic hippy trippy number that follows him being shot by a well-placed tranquiliser dart, while the production also boasts some slick and entertaining puppeteer work.
Oh, and if only every show at the Empire could open with a monkey threatening to bombard mobile phone miscreants with poo.