Zoo critters ‘move it’ in snappy musical

play review /// ‘Madagascar: A musical Adventure Jr’

CREATURE FEATURE—Animals just wanna have fun in “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr.,” a production of Young Artists Ensemble running through Feb. 18. Courtesy photo

CREATURE FEATURE—Animals just wanna have fun in “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr.,” a production of Young Artists Ensemble running through Feb. 18. Courtesy photo

Shortly before Young Artists Ensemble’s production of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure Jr.” began, a 6-year-old in the audience was already singing “I Like to Move It,” bopping around restlessly in his seat, waiting for the show to start.

Such was the enthusiasm and anticipation that pervaded the theater at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts for the “Jr.” version of the musical adaptation of the popular 2005 animated DreamWorks film.

Since its debut, “Madagascar” has become a sprawling entertainment franchise, spawning two sequels, a spin-off film and a television series, not to mention the musical versions.

The story has elements of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Peter Pan” and other fantasies in which central characters embark on an eventful musical adventure to an exotic, far-flung paradise.

In the musical version, Kevin Del Aguila’s book is enhanced by energetic, infectious songs composed by George Noriega and Joel Someillan.

Four friends known as the Zoosters, consisting of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, find themselves wondering what life is like outside the sanctity of the Central Park Zoo. When they escape with four anarchic penguins, the animals are caught, tranquilized and find themselves in crates on a boat.

The penguins take over the ship, hoping to divert it to Antarctica, but the Zoosters’ crates wash overboard and end up on Madagascar, which the Zoosters think is San Diego. The penguins arrive in Antarctica but find it too cold to stay long, so they make their way to Madagascar to rescue their friends.

Cheryl Ross’ brilliant anthropomorphic costumes only suggest the animals; Alex sports a fur-lined Elvis-like jumpsuit, Marty has a punkish mohawk, Gloria looks like a holdover from Disney’s “Dance of the Hours” ballerinas from “Fantasia,” and Melman sports a spotted brown tuxedo.

Kobe Burton is excellent as Alex, the “King of New York City,” whose main concern in leaving the zoo is where and how will he be able to get food, especially his beloved humongous steaks. His solo “Steak” is a finger-snapping R&B number reminiscent of Little Willie John’s “Fever.”

Lindsay Margaret Flores plays Marty, the most adventurous of the quartet, who is eager to flee the zoo.

Burton, Flores and Anna Cardino, as Mason the Chimpanzee, perform the show’s jaunty buddy song, “Best Friends.” Charlee Dirickson is Gloria, the hippest hippo in the zoo, and Charlee Lambert is Melman, the kind-hearted giraffe.

Samantha Green stands out as Skipper, the leader of the rambunctious penguins, who include Madelyn Ragsdale, Emerson Julian and Mckenna Keiser.

Sabrina Boggs is funny as the screechy King Julien, head of the Lemurs on Madagascar, whose arch enemies are the ravenous, catlike predators known as the Foosas. (Observant parents might recognize props from the 2000 film “Cast Away” strewn about King Julien’s lair, including FedEx boxes and Wilson the Volleyball.)

Of course, the kids in the audience are waiting for the show’s signature song, the Jamaican ragga “I Like to Move It,” led by King Julien and the Lemurs. The song would be perfect in ad campaigns for Gold’s Gym or other workout facilities.

The show is directed by Suzanne Tobin, and the tireless Susan Treworgy-Calkins and her five-piece orchestra provide the lively musical background.

The songs are catchy and fun, and along with the colorful costumes, hyperkinetic performances and whimsical humor, make “Madagascar” a must-see show for the entire family.

The play runs through Feb. 18, with performers from Conejo Theatre For Everyone (CTFE) taking lead roles from Feb. 23 to 25. For information and tickets, visit hillcrestarts.com.