Julien and animals-africa cast.jpg

After washing up on the beach in Madagascar, Alex the Lion, Mary the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, and Gloria the Hippo meet King Julien of the Lemurs. Photo by Walt Riches.

What happens when the animals of New York’s Central Park Zoo decide to leave their cages for an adventure? “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” will answer that question.

Their lives have been spent behind bars, being admired by onlookers and having their favorite foods served daily. But, what else is there in the world? Best friends Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman plot an escape to explore. 

Music resounds from the orchestra pit as the audience enters the Mainstage theater. Ron Murphy and his gathered musicians exude vitality and sound. “Madagascar” is indeed a musical adventure. There will be excitement. There will be confusion, joy and hunger. 

Playhouse company member Jess Griffin makes her debut in the role of director of this show. I have appreciated her skills on stage and in co-directing other shows. DeAnna Etchison, another member of the Playhouse company, served as assistant director of this complex show.

Jess and DeAnna have done an amazing job (I wondered if “director” should be labeled “ringmaster” in this case). There are 45 cast members whose ages range from 10-year-old third-graders through high school students, along with a few adult cast members. 

Many of the youngsters have been part of the dance classes offered at the Playhouse throughout the year and in the Triple Threat summer program. These youngsters are accustomed to taking direction as well as feeling responsible for their personal actions and their places within a group.

The unique work of Jensen Crain-Foster as the choreographer is shown by the penguins, the lemurs and the Foosa who appear along with the diner servers. Crain-Foster was also the designer of all the wigs required, including a striking one for Samuel Loyd as King Julian, King of Madagascar.

I especially love the black and white dressed penguins, exhibiting a unique penguin walk at all times. Costume designer Shay Dite has provided unique outfits for all the animals: for the lemurs, the Foosa, the chimp, lion, hippo and giraffe. Set designer John Fionte created the zoo and the warmth of Madagascar as well as the Antarctic sea in which the penguins would be comfortable. Props master Eris Skelley Holderman provided food for the servers, which, while not to the liking of Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman, suited other animals just fine. 

At the opening performance, we saw the Africa cast. Making his Playhouse debut as Alex the Lion is Nick Mullens, a music teacher at Baxter Primary School in Putnam County. Morgan Neal, with superb dance skills, brings Marty the Zebra to life. Angela Robbins is a delight in the role of Gloria the hip-hip Hippo. It is good to have Malachi Banegas back on stage in the role of Melman the Giraffe. Kendall Walker, Brachae Young, Sidney Warner and Kyra Crosby complete the Africa cast. 

The alternating cast, Antarctica, showcases Sophie Burnett as Alex, Braxdon King as Marty, Zaidea Bohannon as Gloria with David Drake as Melman. 

Others in that cast are Maggie Cook, Lily Rigney, Sarah Norris and Jesia Uribe. I hope to return to see this talented group. 

Members of the ensemble demonstrated their knowledge of specific moves expected of them.

Some also played another named role or were zookeepers, Foosa, lemurs and diner servers. They are Jocelynne Abel, Alex Bakker, Christy Bakker, Zolah Beeler, Zuranda Beeler, Sophia Brown, Britney Carmack, Lilly Clymer, Nick Crosby, Adelyn Davis, Alissa Davis, Anna Davis, Taylor Dearman, Calie Eaton, Caden Gipson, Gracie Jo Gora, Sydney Hughes, Alex Ingram, David Kappel, Brooke Parsons, Luke Patton, Matt Patton, Emmaline Pirrie, Luke Smith, Baylee Stone, Anna Timmcke, Emma Tinch, Robert Walker and Ava Wittaker. These young people and their parents who drive them to rehearsals are a dedicated group. I noticed Kyra Crosby, Kendall Walker, Sidney Warner and Brachae Young are among those who have been in numerous productions. 

Kevin Del Aquila wrote the book for this Dreamworks show. Music and lyrics are by George Noriega and Joe Someillan. How fortunate we are to have Ron Murphy and his pit orchestra to bring live music to us. This is a show about friendship, about adapting to your situation and about being the best version of yourself that is possible. Thanks to Weslie Webster, director of the Playhouse education program, for creating classes that make this production for the young people and the community possible.

“Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” is rated G. It will be playing only through March 1. Call 484-5000 to order tickets soon.