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A vibrant adaptation with plenty for younger audience members, but slick and cheeky enough to keep adults engaged, this musical adaptation of the Dreamworks animation is a top rate family entertainment.

Hot on the heels of Shrek at Christmas another classic kids film musical came to the Winter Gardens last night. Madagascar starts at six o’clock for each of the three evening performances in this cameo run and being able to get children home by mid-evening is a smart move.

The adaptation is faithful to the plot of the original Dreamworks animation. Animals in New York’s Central Park Zoo escape into the city, are tranquilised and wake up on a ship. When the penguins seize control of the ship they change course and ultimately beach on Madagascar. To avoid plot spoilers some of the animals depart, and other try to integrate with the local fauna whilst trying to get by in the wild.

From the get go the production finds innovative ways to hold the attention of the audience. I don’t think I’ve been to any stage show where the instruction to turn off mobile phones and not record the production was as engaging as in this case. A puppet monkey appeared from half way up the scenery to deal with this housekeeping, it was great.

My memory of the musical score in the original film is a little sketchy nearly two decades on from the cinema release, but certainly the iconic Born Free theme was recycled. The sound was excellent and did the songs proud, working towards a couple of particularly up tempo numbers in the second half. An energetic take on Real 2 Real’s catchy 1994 hit I Like To Move It does a lot of the heavy lifting, featuring as an encore as well as during the second half.

The star of the show on billing is CBBC presenter and Strictly Come Dancing participant Karim Zeroual, who plays lemur head honcho King Julien. It’s probably fair to say that along with the other lemurs he steals the show on the night, the combination of real actors, puppets and innovative costume design is consistently entertaining as the action gathers pace and passion.

As Blackpool Social Club’s resident birder and nature column writer it probably wouldn’t surprise people to know that I also took a keen interest in the penguins. One of the interesting features of the film and this stage production is that they are essentially supporting cast, but they have more gumption and achieve more than the main characters. They also get the lion’s share (pun intended) of the funny lines until the action moves to Madagascar. The puppetry skills involved in their operation were a joy to watch.

In summary this is a vibrant adaptation with plenty for younger audience members to enjoy, but slick enough and even cheeky enough in places to keep adults engaged. The puppetry isn’t hidden, but it’s done so well that you begin to not take notice of the puppeteers. If you can get there tonight, Saturday morning or for the finale performance that evening you should.

Madagascar the Musical is at the Winter Gardens Opera House until Saturday 24th February. Buy tickets here.

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