Penguins on parade in middle school production of ‘Madagascar Jr.’
For the animals in Central Park Zoo, Madagascar represents everything they don’t have.
So, when Marty the zebra decides to run away in search of freedom, his friends have no choice but to strike out in search of their friend.
With this premise in mind, the middle school stage becomes home to a motley group of animals including Marty, a giraffe, a lion, a hippo and a bunch of penguins, but only for the last weekend in April.
John Meltsch plays Marty, who sets the action in motion.
“Marty wants to go to the wild because he doesn’t really like New York,” Meltsch said. “When the penguins tell him about Madagascar, going there becomes his birthday wish.”
Marty is joined by his animal friends.
Alex is a steak-loving lion played by Eli Johri.
“It’s a pretty exciting role that you could just have a lot of fun with and make it how you want it,” he said. “You get a lot of fun lines. He’s funny for the most part.”
Johri said Alex is a pivotal character.
“It’s a main role and I’m very consistent throughout,” he said. “The story revolves around Alex the lion, because he scares away the Foosas.”
Emily Bell plays Gloria, the very hip hippo.
“She’s very sassy and girly,” she said. “She likes to do her nails and make herself up and stuff.”
Melman, the giraffe, is played by Hudson Wertman.
“He’s very whiny, pretty much how my mom thinks of me,” Wertman quipped. “He’s very scared of everything and he has almost every disease out there.
“He’s lazy and air headed, not really paying attention to anything,” he continued, “but he’s really a fun character to play.”
Sam Bittner stars as King Julien.
“He’s the king of all lemurs on Madagascar,” Bittner said. “He’s welcoming to them because Alex scares the Foosa who tried to kill all the lemurs.”
Cohen Thompson will be tackling two roles as Zookeeper Zeke and Foosa, “an imaginary, ‘catlike, carnivorous creature’ native to Madagascar,” he explained.
The middle school actors are committed to giving their all to the play.
“They’re always here and if I tell them to stop giggling, they do,” Director Bill Mutimer said. “They remember. I taught them the steak dance and they just learned it.”
Mutimer is hoping to engage young actors from the sixth grade on up so he can fortify the drama program in the district.
“All the eighth graders will be with me next year at the high school,” he said.
His plan is already working.
For many of the actors, Madagascar Jr. is not their first stage experience.
Wertman played Eli Whitney in last year’s production of “Anything Goes.”
“[Acting] is just another way to meet up with all my friends and play someone else,” Wertman said. “Being a different character on stage is just a neat thing to do and getting a main role is really awesome.”
“I had a main role last year in ‘Anything Goes,’” Johri said. “In my first year in ‘Peter Pan,’ I made a couple of friends and that got me hooked on [being in plays]. I like to sing and I like to act.”
Johri was first bitten by the drama bug when he “was helping out at Vacation Bible School.”
Mutimer had several reasons for choosing this play.
“Everyone had to audition but everyone got a part,” he explained. “A friend who choreographed the high school play said it was really fun, really cute and a play that the kids would have a good time doing.”
After making the decision, Mutimer purchased materials in the form of a kit produced by a Disney affiliated group.
“Everything comes with it,” Mutimer said. “We get the scripts, two CDs, one with the music and one with the singing.”
According to Mutimer, the kit provided “individual librettos for the kids to keep and a director’s binder with instructions on various topics, [including] “how to cast, rehearsal schedules, ideas for sets and costumes, and even connections to the [academic] curriculum.”
Sets for ”Madagascar” will include zoo cages and other set pieces but “there’ll be a lot of open space to accommodate 60 kids,” Mutimer said.
“Madagascar Jr.” will have a three-day run 7 p.m. April 26 and 27; and 2 p.m. April 28 in the Northwestern Lehigh Middle School auditorium.
Tickets may be purchased at the door.