Review: Madagascar–A Musical Adventure (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

| July 24, 2017

Stephen Schellhardt, Gilbert Domally, Jordan Brown and Lisa Estridge star in Madagascar, Chicago Shakespeare            


  A Musical Adventure

Written by Kevin Del Aguila (book), 
   George Noriega, Joel Someillan (music/lyrics)
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru Aug 27  |  tix: $22-$34  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Big, colorful family fun


Stephen Schellhardt, Gilbert Domally, Jordan Brown and Lisa Estridge star in Madagascar

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
Madagascar–A Musical Adventure

Review by Lauren Whalen

DreamWorks’ “Madagascar” was a hit children’s movie that’s now a successful franchise, so it’s not surprising it’s been adapted for the stage and, subsequently, chosen for Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s annual summer children’s production. Madagascar – A Musical Adventure features “I Like to Move It” from the original movie, as well as a host Jordan Brown stars as Alex the Lion in Madagascar, Chicago Shakespeare Theaterof new songs. Thanks to excellent direction and choreography from one of Chicago’s best – Rachel Rockwell – as well as stunning production values and a great cast, the production will no doubt do very well this summer. However, all the flash and talent in the world can’t make up for the fact that the source material behind Madagascar–A Musical Adventure doesn’t measure up to their past musical productions, and doesn’t have the staying power – or the nostalgia factor – of other film-to-stage adaptations like Chicago Shakespeare’s previous summer productions of Beauty and the Beast or Shrek.

Madagascar follows a group of animals at the New York Zoo, including Marty the Zebra (Gilbert Domally), who has just turned 10 years old, and Alex the Lion (Jordan Brown), who’s unquestionably the zoo’s star attraction. Marty realizes he wants to see what’s out there, and after the zoo’s crafty and cunning group of penguins successfully sneak out, he does too. When Marty’s gang of friends, including Alex, try to bring him back, they find themselves in the far-off land of Madagascar, and are greeted enthusiastically by King Julien (Aaron Holland) and his cheerful gang of lemurs. All isn’t perfect, however: the evil Fossa (Garrett Lutz) want to make a meal out of the lemurs, and speaking of meals, how long can carnivore lion Alex go without his beloved steak?

Aaron Holland stars as King Julien in Madagascar, Chicago Shakespeare

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s big budget comes in handy for a show like Madagascar, and the production values are nothing short of spectacular. Jesus Perez’s costumes are gorgeously vivid, and Richard Jarvie’s wig design features a shout-out to the musical Hairspray via the hippo Gloria (Lisa Estridge). Far and away the strongest production value is Sarah Ross’ innovative puppet design for the penguin and lemur characters (as well as the actors’ skillful execution). Jeff Award-winning director and choreographer Rockwell, who just helmed the hit Shakespeare in Love, is an expert at putting together fast-paced productions that are both solid and enjoyable, and Madagascar is no different. She does everything in her power to elevate the fair-to-middling material and makes Madagascar a total crowd-pleaser, with actors high-fiving young audience members and bringing everyone to their feet in a post-curtain call dance party. The cast is equally fantastic, infusing multiple characters with big personalities through song and dance. Both Domally and Brown convey a sense of childlike wonder, and Stephen Schellhardt displays wonderful comedic timing as Melman, a neurotic hypochondriac giraffe.

It’s easy to see why Madagascar is recommended for children ages 5 and up: the production’s dynamic is just so big and loud, it might be overwhelming for really little ones. At the same time, any kid older than early elementary might find the story and themes juvenile. Though the production is incredibly well done, all the flash and skill in the world can’t fully compensate for Madagascar’s thin plot and mediocre score. Arguably, Disney still does it best, and this DreamWorks adaptation is strictly for the kids. This Madagascar is a stellar execution of middling material, and hopefully Chicago Shakespeare will raise the bar next summer. Until then, they have a definite kid-pleaser that will make for the perfect Navy Pier family excursion.

Rating: ★★★

Madagascar–A Musical Adventure continues through August 27th at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand (map).  Tickets are $34 for adults, $22 for children age 12 and under, and are available by phone (312-595-5600) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info, including a performance schedule, can be found at time: 70 minutes, no intermission)

Stephen Schellhardt, Gilbert Domally, Jordan Brown and Lisa Estridge star in Madagascar, Chicago Shakespeare

Photos by Liz Lauren




Gilbert Domally (Marty), Jordan Brown (Alex), Lisa Estridge (Gloria), Stephen Schellhardt (Melman), Leah Morrow (Skipper), Tony Carter (Kowalski – through August 20), Sam Shankman (Kowalski, beginning August 23), Erica Stephan (Private, Mort), Adrienne Storrs (Rico), Aaron Holland (King Julien, Ship’s Captain), Holly Stauder (Zelda, Old Lady, Maurice), Garrett Lutz (Mason, Fossa), Hanah Rose Nardone (Candy, Lynn Lemur), Ciera Dawn (Animal Control, Fossa), Ron King (Zeke, Lars Lemur, Police Officer, Fossa)

Understudies: Dawn Bless, Ciera Dawn, Rachel Hafell, Will Herndon, Katie Hunter, Ron King, Garrett Lutz, Sam Shankman, Rainey Wright, Travis Austin Wright


Jermaine Hill (music director, conductor, keyboard), Julia Schade Armstrong (keyboard), Sean McNeely (woodwinds, music contractor), Ethan Deppe (percussion)

behind the scenes

Rachel Rockwell (director, choreographer), Scott Davis (scenic design), Jesus Perez (costume design), Jesse Klug (lighting design), Shawn Sagady (projection design), Sarah Ross (puppetry design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Richard Jarvie (wig & make-up design), Matt Deitchman (orchestrations), Bob Mason (casting), Jermaine Hill (music direction), Ericka Mac (associate director and choreographer), Deborah Acker (production stage manager), Kevin Gregory Dwyer (asst. stage manager through July 30, stage manager beginning August 2), Dennis J. Conners (asst. stage manager beginning August 2), Liz Lauren (photos)

Erica Stephan, Leah Morrow, Tony Carter and Adrienne Storrs star in Madagascar, Chicago Shakespeare



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Category: 2017 Reviews, Chicago Shakespeare, Children's Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Musical, Navy Pier, Video, YouTube

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