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Move It, Matt!

Move It, Matt!

Above: Matt Terry and the company of Madagascar the Musical in rehearsal

Matt with Sardines’ Editor, Paul Johnson

Released in 2005, the movie Madagascar has since become an iconic piece of animated film history, spawning two sequels, a spin-off and a TV show. The original, which featured the vocal talents of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen, has grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide.

Last week the new UK tour of the film’s brand-new musical adaptation premiered at New Wimbledon Theatre starring 2016 X Factor winner, Matt Terry.

Sardines dropped in for a chat with Matt just one week before the show’s big opening in SW19 where we discovered that, in just under two months Matt will be headlining in the very same theatre where he used to sell ice-cream!

MATT: That’s right! I used to work front of house at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre where I always used to get told off for selling cut-price ice cream! I did a couple of pantos at the Churchill too when I was younger. That’s when I was training at D&B School of Performing Arts, just up the road, and they used to send students up for the panto every year.
It’s going to be great because we go to Bromley in September as part of the tour, but it will be a bit weird coming back and thinking, ‘God, I used to sell ice-cream here, and now I’m on stage!’

This is quite an early venture into musical theatre seeing as you only won X Factor two years ago?
MATT: To be honest I trained in musical theatre first and was in the final call-backs for Thriller Live, Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots… I was auditioning all the time and then fell into X factor, which I ended up winning! I still love music, and singing pop, and two years later I’m still doing it but that’s the difference nowadays; things are evolving. One minute you’re on TV presenting and the next minute you’re releasing an album, appearing in a musical, a TV show. Everyone is prepared to do everything nowadays, which I’m happy about, I love the variety of being able to do so many different things. But this is where I started, my foundation, and definitely my main love. I just love being part of a cast.

How does the film version of Madagascar fit into your OWN childhood timeline?
MATT: I’m 25 so I must have been eleven or twelve when it came out. I just remember watching it, in the front room, cross-legged on the carpet eating grapes. I’ve always loved it and the movie is pretty iconic now. There have obviously been three movies and a spin-off or two. It’s timeless. I think naturally the next step now in this country is for it to be musical. You can’t help but draw parallels with other films which have become musicals like Shrek, and I guess the parallel there is that it’s a family show. There’ll be lines that adults will laugh at and understand that will go straight over the kids’ heads but, of course, there’ll also be all the favourite elements that the kids will love and understand – such as The Floss halfway through one of the big numbers. Just incorporating that alone will make the kids go nuts because it’s such a viral phenomenon at the moment. The adults probably won’t understand any of that!

Alex the Lion was famously brought to life by Ben Stiller. What can we expect from Matt Terry’s version?
MATT: I think they’ve cast us all very well, not only in appearance but according to our personalities too. We all have very similar traits to our characters. Melman, for example, who is played by Jamie [Lee-Morgan] – identical charismas, and that goes for the others too; Marty and Antoine [Murray-Straughan], Gloria and Timmika [Ramsay], and hopefully me and Alex. It’s ok,I am aware that I’m not a lion but that’s probably really the only difference; it’s not the movie, it’s an adapted musical of the film. But we all play the characters well and I’m really excited how we’ve brought them to life. And of course Alex is singing some big numbers, which is new.”

Are the costumes a problem with all that moving around?
MATT: It is very hot! My costume is obviously a muscley lion that makes me look about twenty stone. With a chest out here, arms out there, just like in the film – it’s very realistic. I’ve really jumped in the deep end with this haven’t I! Perhaps I should have started off with a nice quiet straight acting role, ha, ha! Big costume, lots of choreography, big numbers… But I’m loving it!

What has been the hardest aspect of being in the show for you to get used to?
MATT: I fully realise that I’ve gone from winning X factor quickly into a big musical and that some of the critics will be expecting a disaster. But luckily I don’t take life too seriously and I have fun with everything. No matter what I do I give it everything I’ve got and I’m just enjoying the process. That’s not to say we’re not still learning, right now we’re still in the rehearsal process, so it’s not perfect yet but we’re sharpening up all the time. We’ve actually only had three weeks to put on an entire musical, which is nuts, but I’m excited. Three weeks is about the length of time you usually get to rehearse for a pantomime and, this is a full UK tour, but it’s gonna be great – I hope so anyway, you’re coming to the first week in Wimbledon! Ha, ha!

Dropping in on our chat are some of the new show’s creatives (Director, Kirk Jameson, Choreographer, Fabian Aloise and Puppet Director, Emma Brunton) as well as co-stars, Jamie Lee-Morgan (Melman), Antoine Murray-Straughan (Marty) and Timmika Ramsay (Gloria), so it’s lucky we had some extra questions:

Can you tell us what taking on this show means to you?
KIRK: First and foremost, the timing feels right. The movie is so iconic, along the lines of Shrek, which of course is a complete smash hit. I’ve actually had very extensive notes from my nephews. The first thing I was told is that we have to include Move It!

JAMIE: The film has had quite a few sequels, including the TV shows, so I agree that the time is right to see it live. That’s the natural evolution of it. A lot of the parents who will bring their kids were kids themselves when the film came out twelve years ago, so they’re almost passing it on to that next generation. That means both the parents and children have expectations as they walk through the door.

FABIAN: Y’know, there aren’t that many family shows, with the exception of things like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are kids shows, and there are adult shows, but this falls right in the middle of the genre so both parents and kids can come in and laugh together. When Kirk and I first met up and talked about what kind of a show we wanted to make, it was almost like we’d opened the lid of this box where anything and everything should be possible. And that’s what makes this group of people so special, is that they allow for it to happen. We’ve rarely had any kind of pushback on any ideas we’ve had; if anything, everyone kind of stands there for a second and thinks, ‘Yeah, how can we make this work? How can we make this more like the movie? How can we make this funnier? How can we relate it to something else that someone recognises?’

Are there any elements of creating a new show that excite you?
KIRK: The fact that we work-shopped a brand-new show has meant that the production we’re opening in Wimbledon is absolutely not what landed on my doorstep eight months ago. It’s actually completely different and restructured. We’ve added scenes, taken stuff away, added songs, in fact we’ve completely remoulded it. So this really is a premiere because this version has never ever been performed anywhere.

JAMIE: One of the most exciting things about creating a new show rather than going into an existing established production is that we have got a lot of creative freedom, so it’s been really nice to workshop together where everybody’s ideas have been thrown into the pot and we’ve come up with what we like the most.

How has the use of puppetry been during the development process?
KIRK: They’ve taken the puppetry on unbelievably well. I was so worried about the it during the planning stages, but I knew it was something I desperately wanted as soon as I read the script. The problem is that puppetry is something that can look very bad, and it’s very easy to do badly. Those guys [Jo Parsons, Laura Johnson, Jessica Niles, Matthew Pennington, Shane McDaid and Victoria Boden] have been a dream, they’re so amazing to work with and have made it so much less of an issue than I thought it was going to be. The puppets are actually the least of my concerns in the show now.

FABIAN: I think with the exception of Jamie [Lee-Morgan], who did War Horse, the challenge for us was to replicate the great job that DreamWorks did with the animation. Because it’s not just traditional puppetry, it’s trying to make puppet reminiscent of the original animation, and that’s really tricky. Even things like Move It! is bordering on the impossible to get anyone to do what the animation does. That’s been the biggest challenge I think.

EMMA: It’s been really interesting having Max Humphries give us such an amazing diversity of puppets in terms of what we have to create, and they’re all very different. We were lucky enough to have a workshop early on to decide how they were going to move, and how we thought they should move, and it was endearing having the mechanics working at that stage. What’s been fascinating for me as a puppetry director with a background in dance is that being able to see the puppeteer can actually add an energy to what’s happening through the puppet. This means you can actually embrace the fact that you can see the puppeteer and they give an echo of the movement that the puppets are creating.

Your favourite part of the show?
Antoine: I Like to Move It!

Jamie: The crate scene on the boat before they reach Madagascar.

Timmika: When we first arrive in paradise, it’s really funny!

Matt: The costumes, everybody’s in for a surprise.

Fabian: Anything with Mort. She’s the most amazing thing ever!

Emma: All the puppetry!

KIRK: There’s a number in act two called Steak, when Alex gets withdrawal symptoms and goes a bit delirious as he starts to dream about steak. It’s a big glitzy Las Vegas showgirl number of which Fabian has done an amazing job, the girls are fantastic, Matt’s fronting it beautifully… And it’s completely nothing to do with the style of the rest of the show. We just go to Vegas for four and half minutes, and I absolutely love it.