Madagascar the Musical, review: Congress Theatre, until Saturday, May 18

Madagascar the Musical. Picture by Scott Rylander
Madagascar the Musical. Picture by Scott Rylander

A carnival of animals: Madagascar the Musical arrives at the Congress Theatre this week with a flurry of fun and a dazzling, endlessly energetic spectacle.

The DreamWorks movie probably has a target age range of under-10s, but mums, dads and grandmas need no excuse to fill the theatre’s stalls this week too.

At the heart of the story are four animal characters. Matt Terry, an X-Factor winner in 2016, does well as the rather conflicted Lion Alex, although a featureless musical score gives little scope for his vocal talent. Antoine Murray-Straughan perfectly inhabits the costume of Marty the Zebra.

In her debut in a lead part, Jessica Miles stepped up splendidly from the ensemble on Tuesday night, as endearing hippo Gloria. Best of the quartet, Jamie Lee-Morgan trumps them all with a wonderful Melman the Giraffe, all lurching limbs and fluttering eyelashes.

The opening is underwhelming: a dour backdrop of NYC skyscrapers. Suspend your disbelief while the disparate animal band – with a penguin family in tow – makes it out of Central Park Zoo, via Central Station, hijacks a ship and lands up in Madagascar. Bizarre, but then perhaps our jaded cynical world can do with a little more fantasy and a little less reality. Cue the interval...

An island paradise for our liberated troupe, surrounded by lush undergrowth and as many little creatures as you could wish to cuddle – all expertly controlled by a talented ensemble. The penguins, who had made landfall in Antarctica, drop in for an improbable visit.

Company director Jo Parsons holds amusing court as King Julien, a couple of bouncing, exhilarating dance numbers have the audience swaying and clapping, and everything is bright.

Ah. Almost everything. An alarmingly carnivorous Alex has already had a nibble at the Zebra’s butt, and the tensions rise. The island is divided into a safe side and a wild side, and Marty follows Alex there at his peril. But in a splendid, quite balletic sequence which certainly nods to the Lion King, Alex defies snarling dogs to protect his friend. A positive message, a happy outcome – and a warm, likeable show to thrill and entertain your youngest family members.

Tickets cost £21-£35.

Concessions £3 off (top 3 prices, Tue-Thur only).

Groups 10+ £4 off, 20+ £5 off (top 3 prices, Tue-Thur only).

Visit www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk.