Theater review: ‘Madagascar Jr.’ at HART

WILD THINGS: Scene stealing animals help make Kids At HART's production of 'Madagascar Jr.' a delight.
WILD THINGS: Scene stealing animals help make Kids At HART's production of 'Madagascar Jr.' a delight. Photo courtesy of HART Theatre

It’s only been in existence for about a year, but the Kids at HART program at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville is going strong. The latest production, Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr., runs through Sunday, March 18.

The show is based on the popular Dreamworks animated movie series about Central Park Zoo animals who escape and wind up tranquilized and shipped back to Africa. Mischievous penguins sabotage the boat, and the animals go overboard and wash up on the island of Madagascar, where they meet other animals in the wild for the first time.

Program and show director Sheila Sumpter‘s background in dance helps the production transcend typical expectations of children’s theater. Aided by HART’s lights, sets and sound system, the show looks polished and professional. This is no easy feat with 30 kids in animal costumes onstage — often at the same time — dancing, singing and moving set pieces into place. It is clear that they have put a lot of effort into making this show shine.

As the core cast of escaped animals, teen actors Ella Ledford (Alex the lion), Andrew Delbene (Marty the zebra), Lily Klinar (Gloria the hippo) and Sydney Lyles (Melman the giraffe) show exceptional talent as they sing, dance and act their way through the high jinks. As the squad of penguins, an even younger group of kids (Harrison Ray, Josie Ostendorff, Abby Welchel and August Menck) practically steal the show with their comedic waddling and timing as the superspy-like penguins.

The jungle is filled with exotic animals, including the loony lemurs, led by King Julien. Even though he is still in elementary school, Henry Blackburn shows incredible talent as the monarch of the lemurs. He gets to lead the song “I Like to Move It” and the massive dance number swirling around it. Blackburn is a standout among a skilled cast, all of whom deserve praise for their dedication and hard work.

HART has a hit on its hands, and, according to Executive Director Steven Lloyd, the cast of this production makes up only about half the enrollment of Kids at HART. There’s a clear desire and need for this type of theater program in the community, and HART deserves major kudos for recognizing that and turning it into a massive outreach program that is building both an audience and young talent base.

Madagascar Jr. is not only well done on all fronts, it is also downright adorable and a joy to watch. Families with kids should not wait to make reservations, though, as these shows are playing to capacity crowds, and tickets are pretty scarce at the door.

WHAT: Madagascar Jr.
WHERE: HART Theatre, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville,
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, March 17 and 18, at 2 p.m. $5-10

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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