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

    Performance times:

    • Friday, Feb 11th @ 7:00pm
    • Saturday, Feb 12th @ 2:00pm
    • Saturday, Feb 12th @ 6:00pm
    • Sunday, Feb 13th @ 2:00pm

    Buy tickets at

    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.

    Our story: 

    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.

    Madagascar Cast

    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

    Named Lemurs

    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

    New Yorkers/Lemurs


    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

    Zoo Animals

    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.

    More News from Rockton
    "The foosa are catlike, carnivorous mammals native to Madagascar," says King Julian. "They are always annoying us by trespassing, interrupting our parties, and ripping our limbs off."
    It's showtime at the Central Park Zoo, with "The King of New York."
    Alex the lion (Nailah Brooks) and Marty the zebra (Aly Loner) dance in honor of their friendship in CYT's production of Madagascar Jr. which opens Friday, Feb. 11 at Hononegah PAC.
    Marty the Zebra (Aly Loner) wants to be free and wild.
    L-R: Melman (Ryan Sherman), Marty (Aly Loner), Gloria (Lucy Axe), and Alex (Nailah Brooks)
    Cast members of Madagascar Jr. discuss musical numbers before trying on costumes for the first time.
    "The Penguin's Sea Shanty"
    "To Antarctica! To the ice!"
    Is that a leaping penguin?
    One of New York's finest asks a director for directions.
    Gloria (Lucy Axe) and Alex (Nailah Brooks) wonder where Marty (Aly Loner) is. [She's behind you.]
    Under the influence of tranquilizer darts. L-R: Mason (Nate Kenrick), Marty (Aly Loner), Gloria (Lucy Axe), Alex (Nailah Brooks), and Melman (Ryan Sherman),
    "Judging from this map, we're either headed North or South. Or East. Or West," says Kowalski the penguin (Gillian Nothnagel)
    Cast members listen to the directors as they give instructions and notes for improvement.
    Ryan Sherman, who plays Melman the Giraffe, discusses his spotted costume with a director.
    Some of the Foosa in a less-carnivorous mood.
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