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Five Minutes with: Madagascar the Musical’s Residential Director, Kieran Mortell

By Sponsored content 10 September 2019
Madagascar the Musical, the smash hit and long-awaited musical adaptation based on the popular Dreamworks film, is finally coming to Hong Kong this week. Following Alex the Lion and his motley gangs of friends as they escape from their homes in New York’s Central Park Zoo, the audience is taken on an unexpected journey to the surreal, madcap world of King Julian’s Madagascar—all with a stunning stage set, well-crafted puppets, and elaborate costumes. Bringing characters in a movie to life oftentimes presents an immense challenge, as it involves creating something wholly original while staying true to the original story. Ahead of the debut show on September 12, we speak to Kieran Mortell, the Residential Director on the road, who shares with us his acting background, the challenges, and endless fun of being part of the production of Madagascar the Musical.

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Madagascar The Musical

How did you get into theatre?

I started acting at a relatively older age of 16. Having previously trained to be a professional footballer, I had never done acting before. It all started when I auditioned for the school musical Grease. I got the part of Kenickie and loved every second of it. Starting from that, I haven’t ceased acting. After studying in youth theatre school for a couple of years, I went on to train at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama—I’ve been working for the best part of a decade.

What were the challenges of pinning down the animalistic features and personality of each character?

For King Julien, the main challenge is that he is a lot smaller than a lemur, so I play the character on my knees and strapped into a lemur suit. This makes the movement quite a challenge, especially when trying to do justice to Fabian Aloise’s incredible choreography. The voice for the character is also a challenge. Sacha Baron Cohen gave a unique performance of voice acting in the original film, and I’m quite happy with my attempt to replicate. We are bringing our versions of these characters to life in a way that’s different from the film. But with King Julien, the audience is expecting the distinguished voice they heard in the film. So I have to do it as close to the film as possible.

There’s a fair bit of puppetry in the musical. How did you deal with the challenges of these logistics, as well as realistically portraying all of the animals that need to be represented?

We have some incredible actors in our company who play two or three different puppets in our production. It’s a challenge, as they all are operated so differently: for some characters, you have to be strapped into; and for others, some are hand-held. The difficulty doubles as all the characters speak in a variety of voice. Luckily, the film helps people to jump from one voice to the next. Also, we never shy away from the actors behind the puppet, as they are always visible to the audience and play just as big a part in the show.

Madagascar The Musical

What can we look forward to in the stage production that will surprise us, given that most of the audience will already be familiar with the film?

We have one song you will all recognise and want to join in with (please do!) and that is I Like to Move It. But apart from that, we adopt an original score that was created by our writers and the creative team. These songs take you on a journey of friendship and adventure. They are tunes that get stuck in your head even long after the show (in a good way). Albeit being a ‘family’ musical, the choreography is incredibly contemporary and cool.

What are some memorable moments from all your performances throughout the tour?

When I was strapped into a lemur costume, it makes walking difficult at times. There’ve been a few occasions when I have toppled over and fallen on my back like a turtle, and I needed assistance to get back up. Luckily, it happened backstage or in rehearsals, so I hope I’m not tempting fate now!

Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite line of dialogue and why?

“You probably won’t survive!” says Skipper the Penguin. It’s a whimsical line with a touch of dark humour. Madagascar is not merely a kids show. I believe people of all ages will find it entertaining and humorous.
Madagascar The Musical Interested in seeing Madagascar the Musical? Enter our competition here and stand a chance to win a set of four tickets to Thursday’s (September 12th) 7 pm show.

This competition is brought to you by Localiiz in partnership with ABA Productions. [su_spoiler title="Terms & Conditions" style="fancy" icon="plus-circle"]1. Competition details form part of these terms and conditions 2. Entry is open to residents of Hong Kong except employees (and their families) of Localiiz.com (HK) Ltd, the suppliers of the prizes and any other companies associated with the competition. 3. The competition closes on September 10 at 11:45pm. The winners will be contacted on September 11. 4. The prize(s) will be awarded to the entrants who have answered the competition question(s) correctly as judged by the Localiiz judges. 5. Reasonable efforts will be made to contact the winner(s) using the contact information provided by the entrant. If the winner(s) cannot be contacted, or are unable to comply with these terms and conditions, Localiiz.com (Hong Kong) Limited reserves the right to offer the prize to the next eligible entrant. 6. The winner(s) agree(s) to the use of their name and photograph to make a public announcement of the prize award, and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests by Localiiz.com (Hong Kong) Ltd relating to any post-winning publicity. 7. The entrant(s) must be aged 18 or over. 8. Proof of identity and age may be required. 9. All entries must be made directly by the person entering the competition and use of a false name or email address will result in disqualification. 10. Entries made online using methods generated by a script, macro or the use of automated devices will be void. 11. No responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, delayed or corrupted, or due to computer error in transit. 12. The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. 13. The winner(s) is (are) responsible for expenses and arrangements not specifically included in the prizes, including transport to the venue. Prizes are subject to availability and the prize suppliers’ terms and conditions, for example their opening hours. 14. Failure to respond and/or provide an address for delivery, or failure to meet the eligibility requirements may result in forfeiture of the prize. 15. Where applicable, the decision of the judges is final based on the criteria set out in the promotion and no correspondence will be entered into over this decision. 16. The provider of the prize is specified within the promotional material. 17. In the event of a discrepancy between these standard terms and conditions and the details in the promotional material (or any other terms and conditions provided/referred to at the time of entry), the details of the promotional material (and any other terms and conditions provided/referred to at the time of entry) shall prevail. 18. The competition organiser is Localiiz.com (Hong Kong) Limited, 15/F Chao’s Building, 143-145 Bonham Strand East, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. 19. A list of winners will be available by writing into the organiser no earlier than six weeks (unless otherwise stated) after the close of the competition. Only the surname of the winners will be disclosed. 20. Prize must be redeemed by 20th September 2019 [/su_spoiler]
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