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Back in December I received an offer from Living Social, one of the many 'deals' sites that have sprung up in the last couple of years. They were offering tickets for Madagascar Live at the LG arena in Birmingham for just under half the normal price. We could get 'Gold' tickets - the second highest price band - for £17 per person instead of £35 each. I know my husband would rather eat his own eyeballs than go to a pantomime so this seemed like an equally childish alternative to the more traditional Christmas entertainment. We saw the original Madagascar film at the cinema many years ago and I was interested to see how they could convert a cartoon into a stage show. Once I'd worked out that the LG Arena was basically part of the NEC complex and just a 45 minute drive from home, I snapped up the offer for the evening show on Saturday 19th of Jan.
Madagascar Live is touring the UK until early March so even though you've now missed your chance to see it in Birmingham, there are plenty of other venues on offer. I know this because on Friday night when the snow was lying 'deep and crisp and even' we were faced with the possibility that our Saturday evening tickets might not be usable if the roads were closed. The LG Arena had announced that anyone who couldn't get to Birmingham could change their tickets for another venue. Talking of snow, it was highly amusing to see hundreds of ticket holders exploding all over the LG Arena's Facebook page when they refused to cancel the show and give refunds. It seems everyone who couldn't get out of their driveway thought they should get their money back.
All shows are at the weekend since this is very much aimed at children and their parents and it just wouldn't do to go out on a school night.
~The Plot - for those who've been under a rock and never seen the film~
You probably wouldn't book tickets for Madagascar Live if you hadn't seen the film but you don't really need to know the film to follow the stage show. It makes it more interesting and surprising if you do know the film because then you can be amazed by the creative ways that they used the stage sets to create some very different scenes.
The heroes of our story are four zoo animals - Marty the Zebra and his best buddy Alex the Lion, and their chums Gloria the Hippo and her admirer Melman the Giraffe. I have never heard the name Melman before and kept mishearing it as Mailman, which set me to wondering if there had ever been a creature less well designed to deliver letters and parcels than a giraffe.
When Marty decides that there must be more to life than waving to the public, he starts to yearn for 'the wild'. Inspired by a bunch of penguins (who appear to have been inspired by watching Mission Impossible), Marty escapes from the zoo to take the train to 'the wild' and his friends go after him to try to bring him back. The four are captured and expelled from the zoo and sent away on a ship. When the ship gets hijacked by the penguins who want to force the captain to sail to Antarctica, the shipping boxes containing our four friends get knocked overboard, washing up on the beach of Madagascar where they have to confront some of the harsh realities about life in 'the wild'.
~They like to Move it Move it~
The first thing to know is that the costumes are astonishing. Marty the Zebra has a wonderful black and white Mohican crest and fabulous hooves and the curviest butt you've ever seen. I'm not sure if that was natural or padded but it was mighty impressive. Gloria is a glorious study in grey foam voluptuousness. Alex the Lion has a - dare I say it - sexy six pack and a fabulous yellow afro. But the star of the show costume-wise is Melman the giraffe who towers above the rest of the cast on what I can only describe as the world's highest platform shoes. Understandably, he manages to looks totally nervous - just like every giraffe you've ever seen. The penguins are hilarious although their costumes are a little more predictable and I could never quite work out if the same four people were also playing the four lemurs and doing astonishing fast costume changes or if there were in fact another four people in the show.
Each of the characters has a real 'belt it out' stage voice which is necessary of course, but tends to irritate me deeply. I can't really relate too well to the idea of a sort of Animal Glee Club and I found a lot of the songs (with the obvious exception of 'Move it move it') deeply annoying. This is just me - I'm not really cut out for musicals as I struggle with people singing at each other especially American people singing at each other.
~Setting the Scene~
The scenery is extraordinarily clever. The same structures start out as animal cages, turn into an underground train, then into the shipping containers on the ship. Then in the second half, the structure is gone and we're in a much more open jungle setting. Our favourite clever effect was on the ship when the penguins would run back and forth at the front of the stage and then miniature versions of them would be seen on the top deck of the ship whenever the full sized penguins went off stage. It was really very clever.
I've been to the National Exhibition Centre (or NEC) many times but I'd never been to the LG Arena before. We found the signage on the motorways was rather poor as only the NEC was indicated and we had to get very close before there was any mention of the arena itself. Luckily we were using my sat nav and found it easy to follow the instructions.
Car parking at the LG (and for the NEC in general) is well maintained and there were plenty of staff in their high visibility jackets standing around to make sure we didn't get lost. Due to the snow over the weekend, the car parks and paths were quite treacherous and I felt the venue could have done a lot more to keep visitors safe, especially considering that a large number of people attending the show were little people. The car parking fees are £8 which is a bit steep but you have no option as there's really nowhere else around that's less expensive. Our neighbour suggested parking at the Birmingham International railway station but it would have barely saved a couple of pounds.
We collected our tickets from the box office and headed into the building. The lobby of the LG is enormous and rather stark. It's a bit like hanging around in a warehouse. There are ample toilet facilities and a range of food and drink venues as well as souvenir sellers but the overall atmosphere is pretty bleak. We were lucky enough to find a couple of comfy chairs and settled down to eat the food we'd brought with us (my husband had been VERY organised) and to kill the time before the show. We'd gone very early because of the weather.
Knowing that the venue was an arena, I'd expected the show would be staged in the middle with seating all round. Silly me. I should have checked the website as the arena had effectively been sliced in half and the stage stuck in the middle with a horseshoe of seating around it. Large chunks of the seating to either side could not be used as the visibility was too restricted. I was impressed by the stewards who were guiding people to their seats. They were all very cheerful, and many were handing out 'lemur' eye masks for the kids to wear. Selling of programmes was not at all pushy and it was easily to ignore the people doing this.
We were not the only people at the show who didn't have kids with us but we were definitely in the minority. The woman sitting behind us got right through to the final 'Move it Move it' sing song when all the audience were up and dancing before asking us where our kids were and then saying she'd worked out we didn't have any and "Fair play to you for coming anyway". My husband took this as a sign that a large number of the parents attending were there because they had to be rather than because they wanted to be. I'm not a massive fan of musicals and I didn't love most of the songs but I found the costumes, sets and scenery absolutely brilliant. This isn't a challenging story and there's nothing very complicated about Madagascar but even the youngest viewers will go away with a few key messages: that 'the wild' isn't all it's cracked up to be, that you should be careful what you wish for, and that carnivores like Alex the Lion are going to struggle when they eventually realise that all their buddies are vegetarians.
Cameras are not allowed to be used during the show so I have no pictures. Apparently you can't use your flash in case it 'scares the animals'!