A movie, aimed at children, being turned into a stage musical aimed at families.
Some might think such a creation a cynical move; the director of the show calls it one of the most creative and artistically fulfilling experiences of his career. Given that the director has some seriously impressive, award-winning hits under his belt, he’s worth listening to.
The movie is the animated smash hit Madagascar, now a touring musical which is at the Bradford Alhambra this week and the director is Kirk Jameson.
“I think work like this is vitally important. It’s the kind of show that can unleash the imagination for young people and they are the theatre audiences of the future,” he says. “For me, working on something that already exists in another form and then working out how to make it work on stage, hearing the music being added and all those other elements makes this an incredibly creatively fulfilling project.”
Madagascar was released a frankly unfathomable 13 years ago (seriously, wasn’t it in cinemas just a couple of years back?). When it hit cinema screens in 2005 it wasn’t a huge critical success, but the box office was impressive with over $500m being taken at cinemas around the world. The talents involved were impressive, with Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller and Jada Pinkett-Smith providing the voices for the four main characters and Sacha Baron Cohen coming up with a seriously memorable cameo as King Julien. The story involved four animals who have been raised in a Manhattan zoo washing up on the shores of Madagascar and learning to fend for themselves in the wild.
“The script and the characters are really wonderful, I have nieces and nephews and they all love the movie too,” says Jameson.
The story clearly has staying power. But it’s an animated movie: can that really work on stage?
Well, one of the most commercially successful creative products in history would suggest so. The theatrical production of The Lion King became the most successful production of all time in 2014, passing $6.2bn in earnings.
“I actually went to see The Lion King again before I started work on this,” says Jameson. “Creatively it remains one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I have ever seen.”
He has a point. While some in the theatre world may be a little sniffy about shows like Madagascar the Musical, good luck to them if they try to argue shows like this lack artistic merit: Julie Taymor’s production is a physical theatre masterpiece using contemporary dance and puppetry.
It’s easy to see why the producers Selladoor and Jameson were keen to turn Madagascar into a stage show. “In the theatrical spectrum there is work as different and varied as Sondheim, Mamma Mia and Shakespeare and all of them have a place in our theatre ecology,” says Jameson. “Just as a society is richer when it is made up of lots of different sorts of people, theatre is strong when it caters for different people. I saw a seven hour show called The Inheritance at the Noel Coward theatre and I loved it, but there is also a space for a big musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously in British theatre.
“Apart from all of that, it is a show that families love to come to see together. It is bright and colourful, funny and spectacular and if you can bring whole families into the theatre to enjoy a show together then that’s something I think is worth doing.”
Over the festive period Jameson will be working on both a pantomime and a musical and the award-winning director says that, as with Madagascar, it is rewarding to see young people in the theatre, some there for the first time. “It is a huge responsibility when you think about the fact that the theatre audiences of the future might be seeing something for the first time, we have to make it spectacular and something that will make them want to keep coming back.”
Giraffes, lions, music, what appears to be a quite spectacular set design in which ‘everything is hidden in plain sight’ according to Jameson: it seems the formula for turning films into stage shows - and theatre first-timers into theatre lovers is working.
At Bradford Alhambra to October 27, York Theatre Royal, Tue February 26-March 2, 2019.