Madagascar Jr.: a zoo-sized musical at Hononegah PAC
CYT Rockford returns to Hononegah Performing Arts Center this week to present their one-hour production of Madagascar Jr. Their previous show, A Christmas Carol, was one of the featured Rockton Christmas Walk events, and they brought Annie Jr. to the Hononegah PAC last May.
Madagascar Jr. is based on the animated Dreamworks film, which starred Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Sacha Baron Cohen. The script is by Emmy Award-winning writer Kevin Del Aguila (PEG + CAT). The lyrics and music are by Grammy-winning Cuban-American producers and songwriters George Noriega and Joel Someillan. The show was sold out 10 nights at Radio City Music Hall
- Friday, Feb 11th @ 7:00pm
- Saturday, Feb 12th @ 2:00pm
- Saturday, Feb 12th @ 6:00pm
- Sunday, Feb 13th @ 2:00pm
Buy tickets at https://www.cytchicago.org/shows/Madagascar-A-Musical-Adventure-Jr/91
Like A Christmas Carol, the cast of Madagascar Jr. has all the cute little children you could want. The dance numbers are fully-staffed. to say the least. But this is not your mama's school musical. With professional costumes, props, and sets, each CYT show has what seems like a dozen alert adult directors, each focusing on voice, dance, acting, or other aspects of the theater experience. The Rockford chapter is part of CYT Chicago. which produces over 30 of these musical theater productions each year in 10 different areas in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. Since 1980, CYT has become the largest children’s theater organization in the country with more than 38 locations in 25 different cities and enrolling 18,000 students annually. Props and costumes come from CYT Chicago's warehouse in Cary, IL.
About the cast
Most of the lead roles in Madagascar Jr. are handled by older teens who have been studying with CYT and practicing the art of musical theater for years. None of them are the "look-at-me" type of stars, but you can't help but enjoy looking at them, like the stars. Each one shows a real, winsome personality that pulls the audience into the story.
Aly Loner, who previously starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and played Grace Ferrell in Annie Jr, gives a fun, sympathetic portrayal of Marty the Zebra. Nailah Brooks, who handled several of the harder dance roles in Annie Jr., plays Alex the Lion with confidence but not arrogance. Ryan Sherman, who played the con man Rooster in Annie Jr, gets to reuse that New York accent as Melman the neurotic giraffe. Nate Kenrick, who previously was Bob Cratchitt in A Christmas Carol, now plays Mason the Chimp. Lucy Axe, a CYT veteran who was the Ghost of Christmas Past, now has the role of Gloria the Hippo. Emily Loner, who gleefully portrayed the Ghost of Christmas Present, lights up the stage this time as King Julien the self-appointed and self-important ruler of the lemurs, as everybody hits the floor with the dance song, "I Like to Move It."
Returning to the CYT stage are Steven Mack Middle School students Addison Butz (as Skipper the lead penguin) and Jordan Helgerson (as Zola the zookeeper). Addison has called CYT "a group where everyone is welcome and we all come together for our love of theater and God." Jordan has said, "It's a giant family. CYT makes everyone of all ages feel welcome... You can be yourself 100% and we all know that God is our #1 fan." Both students appeared in A Christmas Carol and Annie Jr.
CYT is a theater school as well as a theater group. Cast members not only audition for shows, they actually pay for classes, where they learn dance, drama and singing. CYT also offers extra classes, such as Jazz Dance, Improv Team, Project Dance Jr., Project Voice, and Voice, for various age levels from 8 to 18. For 5-7 year-olds, Tune Town teaches audition preparation, dance, acting, rhythm and singing, all with pair-share ice breakers, creatively-immersive group activities, and fun-blasted games.
Marty the Zebra (Aly Loner) lives in Central Park Zoo with the other animals. But she laments to her best friend Alex the Lion (Nailah Brooks), "I'm ten years old, my life is half over. I don't even know if I'm black with white stripes or white with black stripes." Alex responds, "So, you're having a midlife crisis. I'm here for you, pal."
But longing to see the wild open spaces outside the New York zoo - maybe Connecticut - Marty sneaks away. She hasn't thought out the details - one of them, of course, being that in the wild, lions and zebras are not best friends. Together, her compadres try to bring Marty back, but that doesn't go well.
Also, the escapees forget to take into account the conniving penguins (cue: Pink Panther music) who seize an oceangoing vessel and steer them - where else - toward Madagascar, where the Zoosters meet the lemurs (who like to move it), and the foosa (who like to eat lemurs). And how will Alex the Lion manage in the wild with no zookeepers to give him his daily steak? Can these friends of various species stick together, no matter what is thrown their way?
CYT will start work on Mar. 7 on their next productions: Musical Theater: Spongebob (ages 12-18) and Musical Theater: Willy Wonka (ages 8-12). They will be rehearsing at First Baptist Church Machesney Park, where the photos below were taken, and then performing at Hononegah PAC near the end of May.
Alex (the lion): Nailah Brooks
Marty (the zebra): Aly Loner
Gloria (the hippo): Lucy Axe
Melman (the giraffe): Ryan Sherman
King Julien (the lemur): Emily Loner
Mason (the chimp): Nate Kenrick
Maurice: Kaylee Kramer
Mort: Lydia Derry
Lynn: Lucy Schneiderman
Lee: Lucia DeLay
Lew: Cruz Negrete
Lars: Eve Nelson
Skipper: Addison Butz
Kowalski: Gillian Nothnagel
Rico: Ava Ellis
Private: Rayce Dempsey
Named New Yorkers
Candy Hammernose: Mellie Berkman
Camera Man: Cooper Wellen
Newspaper Man: Cole Young
Old Lady: Lilia Anucauskas
Animal Control: Jordan Helgerson, Livvy Negrete
Police Officers: Josh Rundblade, Evan Stahl
Passerbyer: Adelaide Noble
Doctors: Lily Frew, Selena Nelsen, Noelle Nelsen
Ship’s Captain: Cole Young
Zelda: Kaylee Kramer
Zoe: Mellie Berkman
Zena: Liviana Negrete
Zola: Jordan Helgerson
New Yorker/Lemur Ensemble
Sarah Cuevas, Malachi Ellis, Ethan Helgerson, Zoey Homola, Ava Johnston, Paige Kohlmeier, Ruby Milsaps, Austin Mulder, Lydia Mulder, John Noble, Sophie Pauli, Elena Warner
Olivia Abamowicz, Aleyah Bailey, MayBell Berkman, Isabelle Butz, Raemah Dempsey, Anna Fager, Courtney Fishe, Lorelai Fishe, Molly Matuska, Grace McLarty, Kasia Meyer, Gabby Negrete, Adelaide Noble, Kelly Schemel, Makenah Schwanebeck, Isabelle Stauffer, Ila Steines
Zebra: Raemah Dempsey, Anna Fager, Gabby Negrete, Kelly Schemel
Flamingos: Aleyah Bailey, Isabelle Butz, Kasia Meyer, Makenah Schwanebeck, Ila Steines
Peacocks: MayBell Berkman, Courtney Fishe, Grace McLarty, Isabelle Stauffer
Monkeys/Lemur: Gracelyn Driscoll, Isaiah Stauffer
Servers: Raemah Dempsey, Anna Fager, Gabby Negrete, Kelly Schemel, Lorelai Fishe
Lioness: Lorelai Fishe, Adelaide Noble, Olivia Abramowicz, Molly Matuska
Steaks: Olivia Abramowicz, Molly Matuska
And that goes to show you, Olivia and Molly, that sometimes you're the lioness, sometimes you're the steak.
View the photo gallery below, taken during the first costume rehearsal at First Baptist Church Machesney Park.