New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 2nd August, 2018
Following a slew of sequels and spin-offs, Dreamworks’s animated movie from 2005 gets a new lease of life in this stage musical, with a brand-new score by George Noriega and Joel Someillan.
On the whole, it’s a jaunty score. When it moves away from hip-hop (for, you know, ‘relevance’) it’s actually rather good: a sequence when the escaped zoo animals are shot with tranquilliser darts takes on a Beatles-esque feel, and the choral singing of the ensemble is lovely.
The X Factor’s Matt Terry takes pride of place as Alex the pampered lion. As well as a strong and pleasant voice, Terry has all the moves, feline grace and innate power – even though the animals are deeply anthropomorphised and cartoonified. Matching Terry for presence and vocals yet exceeding him in dance moves, is Antoine Murray-Straughan, thoroughly excellent as Alex’s best mate, Marty, who happens to be a zebra, a fact that doesn’t give rise to conflict until the animals are out in ‘the wild’ and Alex’s belly starts to rumble…
Also in the gang are Timmika Ramsay, as Gloria the sassy hippopotamus (Ramsay delivers great attitude and her singing voice is a dream), and Jamie Lee-Morgan as hypochondriac giraffe, Melman, whose costume combines with the puppetry used to stage the sneaky penguins and the aristocratic chimp. Lee-Morgan’s Melman is hilariously brought to life; you forget it’s a fake head on a stick!
Almost stealing the show is Jo Parsons as lemur King Julien, performing on his knees – which is somehow instantly funny. Parsons gets to deliver the film’s stand-out moment, an obligatory rendition of I Like To Move It that brings the house down. Fabian Aloise’s choreography is bang up-to-date with dabs and ‘flossing’ aplenty.
This brash and colourful show is great family fun. There are plenty of funny lines for the grown-ups, and ostensibly the ‘message’ is about putting aside one’s baser instincts for the sake of friendship. So, perhaps it’s about remaining in the EU… More likely, it’s a metaphor for the plundering of Africa by the West, if you want to get geopolitical about things.
The Lion King it certainly isn’t, but there is enough charm and humour to keep us engaged and give us a good time. Yet another high-quality production from Selladoor.