Filichia Features: Lions and Zebras and More, Oh My!

Filichia Features: Lions and Zebras and More, Oh My!

By Peter Filichia on April 26, 2018

What's more fun than playing a human being? The students at Woodruff School in Seabrook, New Jersey showed that when creating not a glass menagerie but a first-class menagerie in Madagascar - A Musical Adventure - JR.

Ayden Horsman was a roaring success as Alex the Lion. Never mind that musical at the Minskoff: Alex believes that he's The Lion King of New York. (For one song, he even has back-up cats.) "Gotta give my hair a blow," he says, for "It's Showtime" at New York's Central Park Zoo.

Also on hand were Marty, a zebra that Milana Lucente played most vibrantly; Gloria the hippo (Jaydan Hoffner proved one needn't be a full-grown adult to create an effective choeropsis liberiensis); and Melman the germophobic giraffe (the hilarious Katie Fallon made us realize that if you had a giraffe's neck, you'd fear sore throats, too).

Ably supporting them were 29 convincing animal impersonators: six penguins, 14 lemurs and nine foosa (a nickname for fossa, the cardinal-colored, catlike mammals indigenous to Madagascar).

Yes, of all the roles that middle-schoolers can play, animals may be the favorite of all.

After "Showtime," bookwriter Kevin Del Aguila gave us some endearing show-biz clichés. "I'll be here all week," said Marty in snazzy fashion before adding "In fact, I'll be here my whole life." But she was sympathetic when she saw the penguins make a run for it.

Threatened, their leader Skipper (a nifty Drew Nakai) says: "You never saw us here." Marty agreed: "I never saw anything." We sadly realized that her statement was true in an additional context: Marty's witnessed nothing more than what she's been able to see from her cage.

At her birthday party, she mourned "I'm ten years old. My life is half-over." Alex commiserated with her "mid-life crisis" for they are "Best Friends," a toe-tapper (paw-tapper?) from songwriters George Noriega and Joel Someillan that your actors will soon be singing to each other.

Many movies have shown inmates breaking out of prison, but few have shown animals escaping from the zoo. But our principals were off to The Promised Land: Connecticut!

Once they reached Grand Central Station, their mere appearance scared the commuters. Sad to say, when people treat you as if you're evil, you often respond by becoming evil. Alex picked on a very old woman. But wait! This is New York City so in less than a New York minute, she attacked him with her purse. (Abby Pino swung her bag with brio.)

"Relax, Be Cool, Chill out!" the animals decided in another Noriega-Somellian winner. The Woodruff kids enacted a pose for each piece of advice with uniform precision that A Chorus Line's Zach would have approved.

You know musicals: a happy number is often followed by disaster. Out came the police and the animals were on a boat to somewhere.

The show's title tells you where they landed. Carnivorous foosas didn't make for much of a Welcome Wagon. "Make a good impression!" Gloria urged. "Smile!"

That's usually good advice, but we're talking animals here. Only Alex's roar saved them. Just as he was feeling kingly, King Julien (an imperious Caden Everingham) and his adviser Maurice (a stalwart Arianna Speranza) entered. There can be two kings in chess, but not in Madagascar.

A bigger issue was whether or not Alex would become a natural predator, with Marty as his prey. Maurice cited "the laws of nature" and "nature's plan" - that lions eat zebras. Eventually the animals decided that the zoo you know is better than the rainforests you don't.

As proof that animal-portraying appeals to kids, director Spencer Lau reported that recruiting boys for Madagascar was easier than usual; almost one-third of his cast was male.

Lau didn't do all the choreography, but entrusted three students - Hoffner, Amanda Volk and Alex Basile - to help. "When you have a pop show like this," he said, "it screams for you to use the pop dances kids are doing now."

And yet, there was some traditional choreography for the penguins: Irish step-dancing. It's most apt for short-armed creatures, for this dancing has its participants keep their arms immobile at their sides.

Lau urges that directors not "overthink costuming and make up. Just because the musical is based on a cartoon, it doesn't mean you have to turn your cast into cartoon characters physically on stage."

One thing is certain, both audiences and students alike will go wild for Madagascar - A Musical Adventure - JR.

Read more Filichia Features.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at