Review: Madagascar, A Musical Adventure at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy



Running Time: Approx. 80 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

Do you like to move it, move it? Well, if you do, you’re probably familiar with the 2005 Dreamworks film Madagascar. If you’re not familiar with it and it’s sequels, it’s a cute computer-animated feature about four unlikely animal friends, a lion, a zebra, a giraffe, and a hippo, from the Central Park Zoo who find themselves on the island of Madagascar, realizing what it is to be in the wild. Red Branch Theatre Company’s latest offering, Madagascar, A Musical Adventure, with a Book by Kevin Del Aguila and Music and Lyrics by George Noriega and Jose Someillan, is the stage version of this popular film, Directed by Jenny Male, with Music Direction by Dustin Merril, and Choreography by Angeleaza Anderson, Sarah Luckadoo, and Jenny Male, is fun, energetic production perfect for this time of year when you need a break from the crazy mid-Atlantic weather and the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Set Design by Jacob Cordell is minimal but appropriate and sets the scenes cleverly. Using set pieces, it’s easy to determine where each scene is placed and Cordell decorates the set festively that works quite will with this piece.

A highlight of this production is Choreography by Angeleaza Anderson, Sarah Luckadoo, and Jenny Male. It’s contemporary, high energy, tight, and the ensemble performs it well, adding great value to the production as a whole and keeps the attention of the targeted, younger audience members.


The company of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

Costume Design by Jackie Rebok is well thought-out, flashy, and fanciful, as it should be. With the risk of doing too much for a character when it comes to people playing animals, Rebok’s design is intelligent in that it doesn’t inhibit the actors performances but gives the audience just enough to know which animal is being portrayed. Simple, but spot on, each costume is quite appropriate and adds great value to this production. On a personal note, I think the platform boots for Melman the Giraffe are everything and a clever touch to the character.

Music Diretion by Dustin Merrill is focused and commendable and, even though the production uses recorded music (I’m assuming, since there wasn’t a pit orchestra listed in the program), his cast his well-rehearsed and committed. The score is very pop-inspired and quite catchy. The tunes are hummable and the ensemble has a good grasp of the music making for a delightful production.

Jenny Male takes the helm of this production of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure and her vision and staging of this piece is superb. She doesn’t treat this material simply as a “kids show” but as a quality production. It’s a fluffy show that’s meant to be more fun than anything, but it does have a message of belonging of which Male has a strong comprehension and her vision is clear. Her casting is spot on and her staging keeps the piece moving along nicely with smooth transitions and a peppy pace.

Speaking on the performances of this piece, it’s worth noting that every single ensemble member is 100% committed and gives dedicated, strong performances. They all work well together and take the piece seriously enough to get the message across but also have fun with the material making for an engaging evening of theatre.


The company of Madagascar, A Musical Adventure. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

To begin, Rick Westerkamp takes on the role of the over-the-top, zany King Julien and Megan Henderson takes on the character of the business-like assistant, Maurice. Overall, these two give confident performances and are comfortable in their roles, but Westerkamp takes the over-the-top a little too far and it actually hinders his performance. It’s as if he’s trying too hard for the laugh and the portrayal falls a bit flat. Vocally, he’s not the strongest and with one of the most recognizable, catchy songs in the entire production, “I Like to Move It,” one would think this number would be the most memorable. The choreography is spot on but Westerkamp seems to be just going through the motions, depending on the assumption that the audience will find it humorous.

Ben Ribler tackles the role of Alex the Lion, the star of the Central Park Zoo and a carefree, kept creature that takes advantages of all the privileges that entails. Ribler’s character work is admirable and, vocally, he makes a very good showing but it is a subdued performance, lacking energy at times, and he seems to be so soft spoken, it was difficult to make out his dialogue through much of the performance. However, aside from a few minor issues, he has a good presence, understands his character, and seems to be enjoying the role which transfers to the beguiled audience.


Bryan Thompson as Marty. Photo: Bruce F Press Photography

Performing the role of Marty the Zebra is Bryan Thompson and he has a great grasp of this character and his need for freedom. Thompson’s delivery is commendable and his dedication is apparent for this role. Vocally, he may not be as strong as others in the ensemble, but he holds his own nicely and has great chemistry with his cast mates. Overall, it’s a notable performance and his enjoyment of playing this role shines through.

Though supporting characters, The Penguins are probably some of the most popular characters in this piece and Liliana Evans as Skipper, Angeleaza Anderson as Private, Sarah Luckadoo Rico, and Molly Mayne as Kowalski give a hilarious showing as these determined arctic fowls. They have a brilliant chemistry and work well together. Each actor portrays the individuality of each character and give the Penguins a near perfect balance of hard-nosed, military purpose and compassion for their fellow animals. Kudos to Evans, Anderson, Luckadoo, and Mayne on their wonderful performances.

Danny Bertaux is a highlight in this production as Melman the Giraffe. Melman is such a quirky character, but Bertaux pulls off a stellar performance. He embodies this character who suffers from severe hypochondria and endears himself to the audience. He works quite well with and off of his cast mates and adds a certain charm to this character. It’s worth mentioning, also, that he keeps up with the intense choreography in exceedingly high platform boots (that I absolutely adore) without missing a step. Overall, a praise-worthy performance.

In this particular production, Taylor Washington as Gloria the Hippo as the standout. This lady has a voice on her that soars throughout the theatre and makes one take notice. She’s committed to her role and adds a maternal aspect that is required of Gloria. Her chemistry with her “boys” is spot on and she takes the material seriously enough to tell the story but also has fun with the role that balances out to be a superb performancce.

Final thought… Madagascar is a cute, fun, and energetic staged version of the popular 2005 film and it transfers nicely to the stage. The music is pop-inspired and damned catchy, that you may find yourself humming on your way out of the theatre. The performances are committed and the ensemble is strong. You don’t have to be familiar with the film to enjoy this family-friendly, fluffy, and thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre.

This is what I thought of Red Branch Theatre Company’s production of Madagascar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Madagascar, A Musical Adventure played December 8-23 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD.

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Review: Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy


Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

411 BCE. That’s when Aristophones’ comedy Lysistrata was first performed in Athens, Greece. That’s a hell of a long time ago but classics are timeless and that’s why they’re performed still today. Though they don’t need to be updated and modernized, it’s always fun to see what happens when they are and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what each era does with them. Red Branch Theatre Company has taken a chance on a modernized classic with their latest production of Lysistrata Jones with Music & Lyrics by Lewis Flinn and Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Directed by Stephanie Lynn Williams with Music Direction by Dustin Merrell and Choreography by Brandon Glass, and it’s worked out nicely for them.


Hailey Ibberson, Patrick J. Campbell, Victoria Meyers, Tiara Whaley, and Angeleaza Anderson. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Lysistrata Jones has taken the story of Lysistrata and taken it out of Ancient Greece to modern day Athens University where the basketball team isn’t really trying that hard when the title character enters the scene and simply wants them to try harder; to want something, and until they do, the girls decide, with the coaxing of Lystrata… no funny business in the bedroom! This leads to an age-old battle of the sexes that involves no funny business in the bedroom and seeking advice from the Madame of the local brothel with some self-realizations along the way.

Scenic Design by Bill Brown is simple, unit gymnasium set which is wise considering the ample but intimate space at Red Branch. His use of bright colors and movable stairs to help create individual settings is both clever and practical making for smooth, easy transitions between scenes, keeping the flow of the piece moving nicely.

Stefany Thomas’ Costume Design is authentic and gives each character his or her own style and helps bring out each character’s personality and charm.


The ladies of Lysistrata Jones led by Lysistrata Jones herself (Hailey Ibberson). Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Brandon Glass’ Choreography is top-notch in this high energy, up-tempo piece. The cast looks like their having a great time and Glass’ choreography is fun to watch. The ensemble numbers are tight and well-rehearsed and he seems to know his actors and matches his choreography to enhance the abilities of this cast. Glass is to be commended for his current and varied choreography in this production.

Music Direction by Dustin Merrell is superb and he brings this exciting and energetic score off the page and onto the stage. With songs that stick to the brain like “No More Givin’ It Up,” “You Go Your Way,” and “The Writing on the Wall,” Merrell is working with a contemporary style with (at times) a heavy hip-hop influence but he and his cast pull it off nicely. The band, though a bit muted because of the space, is tight and well-rehearsed and gives a praiseworthy performance.

Director Stephanie Lynn Williams takes the helm of this production and has given us a delightful evening of theatre. She has a good comprehension of the material and though it’s been twisted and re-imagined, the story still holds tight. It’s a show full of fluff, but Williams seems to have taken it seriously enough not to just throw it away. She’s taken the time to bring the gender-based issues and message of self-realization out of the fluff. She keeps the action moving and the transitions smooth which help keep the pacing consistent. Casting is excellent and, overall, Williams has a splendid final product.

Patrick J. Campbell, center, leads the team in Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Patrick J. Campbell, center, leads the team in Lysistrata Jones at Red Branch Theatre Company. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

The entire ensemble of this piece is spot on. They are dedicated and are working hard to give 100% but are all having a blast up on the stage. The “boys” Cinesias (Andrew Overton), Tyllis (Jason Quackebush), ‘Uardo (Diego Esmolo), and Harold (Elad Ness) all have great chemistry and embody their very different characters. A standout is Overton as the “play-a” Cinesias who has his character down pat and is hilarious as the young man who can’t seem to figure out who or what he is.

Taylor Witt takes on the role of Xander, the social-conscious semi-activist who isn’t a member of the team but crosses paths with our heroine and teaches her not to give up and to keep moving forward. He gives an authentic performance and his featured number “Hold On” is a catchy number that he performs well.

Every team needs a leader and this one is led by Mick, played by Patrick J Campbell, who gives a good but somewhat subdued and mechanical performance. Vocally, Campbell is a standout with a gentle but strong styling as in his featured number “When She Smiles.”


Taylor Witt, Hailey Ibberson, and Angeleaza Anderson. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

The “girls,” as it were, is made of an entertaining and able group consisting of Cleonice (Tiara Whaley), Myrrhine (Victoria Meyers), and Lamptio (Angeleaza Anderson) are everything you want in a cheerleading clique but maybe a little nicer. Each of these characters are different from the next and these ladies have taken these roles and make them their own. Meyers is a believable “good girl” but lets it all out in “Don’t Judge a Book,” her featured duet with Andrew Overton. Whaley takes a commendable turn as the Latina and, though it’s obvious that Spanish is not her native language (at least that’s what it sounded like), she is dedicated to her character and has great chemistry with her fellow actors. Angeleaza Anderson is funny and authentic as the “ditzy” one of the crew. Her vocalization for the character is on point and she gives a confident performance with a good stage presence.

Hailey Ibberson as the title character Lysistrata Jones, the new girl who swoops in to change everything, is absolutely charming. She has a strong presence and gives a committed, confident, and energetic performance and seems to have a good grasp of this character and her tribulations. Ibberson gives a wonderful vocal performance and shines in her featured numbers such as “Change the World” and the poignant “Where Am I Now.”

Patrick J. Campbell, Hailey Ibberson and Taylor Washington. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Patrick J. Campbell, Hailey Ibberson and Taylor Washington. Credit: Bruce F. Press Photography

Taylor Washington as Hetaira and Alex Levenson as Robin are definite highlights of this production. Washington takes on double duty with the character of Hetaira playing both a narrator of sorts as well as the Madame of a brothel. She not only embodies these characters wholly, her vocal stylings on her featured numbers such as “I Don’t Think So” and “Writing on the Wall” are stellar. She takes these songs and makes them her own with her booming voice and she is simply a joy to hear and watch. At the same time, Alex Levenson portrays her character, the level-headed, astute student, with great authenticity and seemingly effortlessly. There are many points in the show I completely forgot she is reading from a script because of her natural and smooth performance. Kudos to both of these actors for a job well done.

Final thought… Though light and airy, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed Lysistrata Jones. It is an upbeat and current piece with a great score, catchy songs, a good script, and high-energy choreography that fits nicely in this summer time slot. The ensemble is dedicated and able and the chemistry is within the entire cast is clear. The classic tale of Lysistrata is broken down but not necessarily dumbed down and this production at Red Branch Theatre Company keeps the audience entertained and engaged.

This is what I thought of Red Branch Theatre Company’s production of Lysistrata Jones… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lysistrata Jones will play through August 26 at Red Branch Theatre Company, 9130-I Red Branch Road, Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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