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Highly Recommended! Crack-a-lackin Fun for the Family

Highly Recommended!

Following a typical day of crowd-pleasing performances at the Central Park Zoo, Marty the Zebra is surprised by a party thrown in his honor by his animal friends. Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the hypochondriac Giraffe all help Marty celebrate his tenth birthday with a cake and some gifts. But, after Marty blows out the candles, he confesses to his buddies that his secret birthday wish is to escape the confines of the zoo and return to The Wild.

Marty’s not the only animal with escape on his mind. The zoo’s passel of penguins, Private, Rico and Kowalski, have formed themselves into a well-disciplined army, led by their fearless leader, Skipper. Together they’ve planned a mass exodus from New York City to Antarctica. Marty decides to join them in their escape, going at least as far as The Wild. However, his entire circle of friends, along with Mason the Chimpanzee, end up accompanying the penguins on an ocean liner that runs amuck. 

The shipwrecked animals find themselves on the jungle island of Madagascar, a land ruled by King Julian, Lord of the Lemurs. His subjects, a gaggle of tiny, furry, “full-figured raccoons” are being preyed upon by the Fossa, a pack of hungry, bloodthirsty carnivores. The Lemurs so appreciate the assistance offered by their new “freak” friends, in rescuing them from their enemies, that they welcome the zoo animals into their community. But eventually hunger overtakes the lion and, finding it impossible not to see his best friend as a meal, Alex convinces Marty that his decision to run away was a big mistake.

The penguins, who’ve successfully commandeered the ocean liner once again, finally make it to Antarctica, only to discover that it wasn’t what they’d expected. The tuxedo-clad birds decide it would be wise to return to the zoo, but decide to stop by Madagascar along the way to pick up their old friends. When they arrive they discover Alex wasting away and ready to devour everyone on the island. However, just as the Fossa begin threatening the little lemurs again, Alex rises to the occasion and saves the day. He’s rewarded with a tray of sushi; and, since Alex is actually a big cat, he finds that he likes the fishy treat better than steak. All the animals rejoice and celebrate with wild abandon, singing and dancing because they like to “Move It, Move It!”

This new, 60-minute stage musical is based upon the popular 2005 Dreamworks film. Adapting a computer-animated cartoon for the theatre is a demanding task. However, the Marriott is fortunate to have director Johanna McKenzie Miller and choreographer Ericka Mac, assisted by musical director Sam Groisser, ready to meet the challenge. Working with a stellar cast of Chicago’s finest, A-list triple-threat talents this production is top-notch. Although aimed at younger audiences, Ms. Miller’s production elicits thunderous applause and gales of laughter from every grownup, as well.

Every actor/singer/dancer in this production is a star, because the Marriott casts only the finest professional talent for its Theatre for Young Audiences. Ron King, for example, is hilarious, touching and demonstrates just the right amount of bravado, as Marty the zebra. Always wondering if he’s black with white stripes or white with black stripes, King longs for what he can’t have until he finds there’s no place like home. He also comes to appreciate what it means to have good friends on his side. Mr. King’s mellow vocals and gravity-defying dance moves make his Marty a striped treat.

Costumed in a pair of tight, fur-trimmed bellbottoms, crowned with a Mick Jagger mane, Liam Quealy transforms into Alex, the King of the Jungle, or at least the Tzar of the Zoo. Mr. Quealy proves, as with every role he plays, that not only does he have the visage and the voice, but he’s got all the right moves, as he sings and dances his way through this tale of friendship. As Alex continually struggles to combat his natural predatory instincts in The Wild, he always remains a faithful companion.

Rashada Dawan is absolutely divine, as she in in every role she undertakes, as Gloria the happy Hippo. Visually funny in her giant bouffant wig and enormous fat suit, Ms. Dawan is a dream girl in every number she performs. Steven Strafford, a longtime favorite at the Marriott, uses his dry wit and self-deprecating humor to make Melman, the neurotic Giraffe, a beloved gut-busting, germaphobic crowd-pleaser.

Using puppets to portray both the Penguin brigade, the Lemurs and the villainous Fossa pack, Laura Savage, Emily Agy, Alejandro Fonseca and Allison Sill are sensational. Together they generate a whole lot of high-octane energy that keeps this show in perpetual motion. Individually, each character has his own distinct personality, with Ms. Sill leading the pack as a no-nonsense master-and-commander of this team of tuxedoed troopers.

The always excellent and highly entertaining Yando Lopez is delightful in this production. He shines like the sun, portraying so many characters, the most brilliant being the vainglorious Lemur leader, King Julian. Landree Fleming is such a radiant performer that she lights up the stage in any quirky role she undertakes. Here she’s very funny in several different parts, including a feisty, elderly New Yorker and the wryly humorous Maurice, King Julian’s royal advisor. And, last but not least, the mega-talented Garrett Lutz brings his skill and artistry to Mason, the zoo folks’ singing and dancing, British-born Chimp cohort. Seldom ever offstage, Mr. Lutz is absolutely lovable in this, and every role he plays.

Chocked full of broad comedy, toe-tapping pop/rock hit songs and exciting choreography, this musical may be aimed at young audiences, but theatergoers of all ages will go wild for it. Costumed in cleverly colorful and stylish anthropomorphic costumes, and set to the beat of an infectious musical score, this play delivers a sound message about the importance of friendship, while it fills the stage with humor and joyful wordplay. By the end of the show, in a crack-a-lackin’ contagious finale that brings the entire audience to its feet, everyone simply has to “Move it, move it.”