By Jori Waldron
Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier is well-known for its iconic performances of classic plays by the Bard and others, but for many summers Chicago Shakes has turned its famous thrust stage into a family mecca. Therefore, its current production, not of Macbeth, but of Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, seeks not to present perfect iambic pentameter but rather to expose a younger audience to the delights of live theater.
The show lasts 70 minutes and is based on the DreamWorks movie. It features Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe as they leave the Central Park Zoo and end up living in Madagascar. They run into a group of lemurs who make them realize that the best place for them might be in the zoo after all. For a more complete description of the plot, click here. Perfect for young children, this high-energy production contains many musical numbers filled with upbeat dancing.
Jordan Brown, who plays Alex, the king of Central Park, has an astounding voice and believable persona as the egotistical lion who thinks he is well-known throughout the world. He sings a great number, “Best Friends,” with his zebra pal, Marty, played by Gilbert Domally. The two of them do a terrific job portraying a range of emotions as Marty makes a birthday wish that Alex doesn’t understand. They are accompanied by the adorable Gloria (Lisa Estridge) who acts as a sassy yet motherly hippo companion to the boys, and Melman (Stephen Schellhardt) a germophobic giraffe who has a litany of medical ailments.
The rest of the cast acts out many supporting roles, including the hilarious penguins (Tony Carter, Sam Shankman, Erica Stephan and Adrienne Storrs) who are also on a mission to escape the zoo, King Julien (Aaron Holland), head of the lemurs who steals the show, and many more.
With many unique costumes, often involving puppets attached to the actors in various ways, there isn’t much need for a set. They do make fun use of the screen on the back wall, projecting images illustrating whatever they are singing or talking about. For example, in Alex’s big number “Steak,” steaks appear in at least 3 different forms throughout the song.
The most widely-known song, “Move It,” causes audience members to do just that. Children jump up and can’t resist dancing along with the spirited number as the actors danced around the stage and up the aisles. The occasional interactive moments with the audience add additional levity to the experience, which makes the show fun for the adults in the crowd too.
The cast and crew go beyond the stage to make this experience a positive one for the children who attend. The program has activities and games in it. In the lobby are themed drinks and a craft table. They also provide patrons a chance to take photos and ask questions of the actors individually after each performance.
Don’t miss this opportunity to expose young children to the wonders of live theatre.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents “Madgascar” through August 27 on Chicago’s Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Liz Lauren.