Red Branch Theatre Company is doing its part to make December the most wonderful time of the year for children of all ages, closing its 2017 season with an outstanding rendition of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.”
Based on the Dreamworks Animation Motion Picture — with book by Kevin Del Aguila, original music and lyrics by George Noriega and Joel Someillan — the show marks the first appearance of the musical at a local regional theater.
Directed and choreographed by Jenny Male, with music direction by Dustin Merrell, upbeat pop scores rock almost every note in the madcap adventure. And designers Jacob Cordell (scenic), Ryan Rhonan (props), Jackie Rebock (costumes) and Helen Garcia-Alton (lighting) have combined creative forces to present a whimsical illusion filled with visual artistry.
Angeleaza Anderson and Sarah Luckadoo (ensemble) are credited with adding to Male’s mostly stunning choreography.
The lights rise at the New York City Central Park Zoo on the opening number, “It’s Showtime.”
As friends Alex the lion (played by Ben Ribler), Marty the zebra (Bryan Thompson), Gloria the hippo (Taylor Washington) and Melman the giraffe (Danny Bertaux) rev up to entertain zoo visitors, the penguins (Anderson, Luckadoo, Liliana Evans and Molly Mayne) hatch a side-plot to escape to the South Pole.
Lauren Alberg, Megan Henderson and the actresses playing the penguins enact sundry other supporting roles. Rick Westerkamp is King Julian, and Diego Esmolo (ensemble) and stage manager Sierra Young step in as male and female swings.
From the moment Ribler leaps into the spotlight in his fluffy, curly blonde wig, he brings a showman’s energy to a cuddly characterization of Alex. Thompson as Alex’s best friend Marty exudes affability, Washington’s Gloria is bold and beautiful and Bertaux makes a lanky, likeable germophobe.
And the entire ensemble looks awesome in Rebock’s spot-on costumes.
Feeling restless in captivity, Marty performs “Wild and Free” with the penguins and sings of “running as far as the eye could see … where I could find the wild in me.” (Thompson reaches valiantly but misses some of the zebra’s vocal notes.)
Professing his mid-life angst to his three friends at his surprise (10th) birthday party, the zebra proposes they escape overnight to explore what it feels like to be in the “wild.” The others quickly nix the dangerous idea, Alex remains behind to cheer Marty up and the two perform a beautiful rendition of “Best Friends.”
But when Marty decides to break out on his own, the trio follows, intending to bring their friend home before his escape is discovered and punished.
They catch up with Marty and the roving penguins only to be tranquilized and captured by the zookeepers. Alex dons John Lennon-like shades in “Grand Central” — a dreamy and smoothly choreographed number — and all the animals fall asleep.
Thus begins a journey landing the four friends at Madagascar as the penguins foray on to Antarctica.
The scenic and lighting design on the white beaches where the friends encounter chimpanzees, lemurs and the dreaded foosa (a feline predator that eats lemurs) is gorgeous.
At the beginning of Act 2, Alex performs “Steak” beautifully. Kids in the audience on Saturday giggled with delight at Marty’s polite, “Excuse me, you’re biting my butt,” as Alex almost succumbs to his wild side.
So Alex takes off to the predators’ side of the island to avoid eating his friend.
The penguins return led by their stalwart skipper (Evans), the friends reunite and all conflict shakes out with lessons learned. In the closing reprisal of “Move It,” the ensemble spreads into the audience and encourages everyone to join in the dancing.
The creative energy driving 15 fine music numbers never falters from start to close of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure,” when Westerkamp as King Julien happily decrees, “Don’t be snooty with your booty.”
“Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” continues Friday and Saturday evenings through Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday mornings Dec. 16 and 23 at 11 a.m., and matinees Dec. 17 and 23 at 2 p.m., at Red Branch Theatre Co., 9130-I Red Branch Rd. General admission is $20. Students, seniors and active military pay $15 in advance. Buy tickets online at redbranchtheatrecompany.com or call (410) 220-6517.