The New Wimbledon Theatre was absolutely packed for the press night of this short run of a brilliant musical. I am pleased to say that children greatly outnumbered journos, but this is a show that adults can enjoy just as much, true to the Dreamworks Animation Motion Picture on which it is based. A lot of the dialogue is New York-style wisecracking of which Groucho Marx would not have been ashamed.
The original movie came out in 2005, and is one of the biggest grossing animated films of all time. So, many of the audience will have seen it. How well does it translate onto the stage, when, instead of “real” cartoon animals, human actors have to play Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, and when puppets carried by humans have to play the Penguins and the Lemurs? The answer is, surprisingly well. Or perhaps not so surprising. Children have an urge to make believe that things are real, when they are obviously not. Very old readers may remember being fascinated by children’s programmes like Captain Pugwash and Noggin the Nog, which consisted of a series of drawings that scarcely moved at all. Modern children have not been so spoiled by CGI and other technological wizardry that they can’t enjoy more primitive production methods.
The stage positively fizzes and buzzes with energy as the animals go through their singing and dancing routines. How they manage in the current heatwave is amazing. I was breaking into a sweat just watching them. And they had on animal costumes and make-up, not shorts and a tee-shirt. One particularly punishing Hip-Hop routine came in the Reel-to-Real number, I like to move it, move it. The cast were sensational, and the audience joined in with gusto.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, I should add that there is rather a neat story line. The four principal animals are happily residing in New York Zoo, where they have all the comforts of modern urban life, and the last thing they want is to be returned to the wild. But that is just where they fetch up, on the remote island of Madagascar. And then they have to deal with actual wild animals!
There is not long to catch this show at Wimbledon. If you have time, it is well worth a trip to the end of the District Line