MANILA — In time for its 20th anniversary celebration, Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group launched its children’s theater arm with Atlantis Imaginarium Youth Theater, which is making its debut with the stage musical adaptation of Dreamworks’ hit animation flick, “Madagascar.”
Atlantis has produced many memorable family-oriented musicals, from Disney hits like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” to “Shrek.” “Madagascar” doesn’t necessarily fit into that list, and perhaps this is the reason it is being presented under a different brand.
The story is basically the same as the movie. Alex the Lion (Markus Mann), Marty the Zebra (Nelsito Gomez), Gloria the Hippo (Sarah Facuri), and Melman the Giraffe (Altair Alonso) are best friends at the Central Park Zoo. But on his 10th birthday, Marty wishes to experience being in the wild and escapes. His animal buddies search for him and they eventually find themselves in Madagascar, where their friendship gets tested as Alex’s true nature surfaces.
While the film took its time in telling a more coherent story, spiced up with numerous pop culture references that would please adults (remember Alex’s “American Beauty”-inspired hallucination?), the stage musical, which has a much shorter time of just a little over one hour, took several shortcuts in getting the animals from New York to Africa.
Gone, too, are the many pop songs used in the movie like “New York, New York” and “(What A) Wonderful World.” The one tune that was retained was Crazy Frog’s earworm “I Want to Move It” which, as expected, became the musical’s centerpiece.
Still, the original songs by George Noriega and Joel Someillan — and there are plenty of them, despite the short running time — are catchy enough and kid-friendly, particularly the fuzzy “Best Friends” and the jubilant finale “Together Forever,” that the little ones would probably won’t miss Louis Armstrong’s soulful vocals.
“Madagascar” really plays out like those song-and-dance shows staged in theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios with multiple performances in a day. It opens with a host welcoming the audience and includes an obligatory audience participation number (this time it’s a TV reporter interviewing the kids in the audience, asking them if they saw an escaped zebra).
But “Madagacar” comes with the Atlantis’ stamp of approval so audiences are guaranteed a polished production as directed by Steven Conde, who did last year’s dark “Sideshow.”
Costume designer Jay Lorenz Cunanan and hair and makeup designer Jaydee Jasa definitely created world-class work in dressing up the actors as animals, with their designs wonderfully complementing the puppet designs of Kayla Teodoro.
The much-loved penguins of “Madagascar,” presented here as delightful puppets, were handled by actors in matching costumes.
But while the penguins were certainly well-applauded as they effortlessly energized the proceedings, stealing the thunder from the four main animal characters, the crown still belongs to George Schulze as King Julien.
And it’s not just because he sings the musical’s most popular song and speaks with a hilarious accent — Schulze truly captured the spirit and essence of “Madagascar” as a musical meant to give kids a wonderful experience at the theater.
The loud and energetic approval at curtain call as the cast reprised “I Want to Move It,” this time joined by the audience, could only mean that they will be back for the next production.
“Madagascar” runs until August 18 at the Globe Auditorium of Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. — Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News