Carol Romo’s production teaches kids courage and confidence

From left: Juliet Sturtevant (Melman the giraffe), Hermine Bergstuen Gullaksen (Gloria the hippo), Sophie Giamanco (Alex the lion), Danielle Bergot (Marty the zebra), and Michaela Butsch (King Julien the lemur).
Photo by Calvin Nuttall

By Calvin Nuttall

Theater-goers will be swept away on a wild comical adventure in “Madagascar,” performed by 20 children through TheaterFun productions.

Adapted from the 2005 animated film, the musical thrusts audiences into the uproarious escapades of four zoo animals. They make a daring escape from the Central Park Zoo to the wilds of Madagascar where they face challenges and build their friendship.

The show runs Oct. 26-29 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse.

“Madagascar’s” story teaches the values of courage and adventure, and the importance of embracing the discomfort of new experiences in order to learn and grow, said Director Carol Romo.

“Don’t be afraid to take that step, to do what you want to do,” she said. “I think of Alex the Lion, going, ‘No no no, that’s not what I want to do.’ I am that way sometimes, too. That’s when you need to be adventurous.”

The adventure begins when “Marty” the zebra, played by Danielle Bergot, 11, decides he’s unsatisfied with his life in the zoo and longs for the wild. On his tenth birthday, he makes his dreams a reality. With the assistance of a group of enterprising penguins, he makes his great escape.

“He is very adventurous,” Bergot said. “He is throughout the whole show, and he just wants to be adventurous and go to new places. He doesn’t like the schedules and being fenced up in the zoo. He wants to be wild and free.”

Marty’s story teaches an important lesson, Bergot said.

“I think it is really good to have goals,” she said. “Marty has a goal, to go to nature. And he doesn’t let anything stop him.”

The free-spirited zebra’s escape has ripple effects at the zoo, which cause a group of other animals to follow him. “Alex” the lion, played by Sophie Giamanco, 12, is Marty’s best friend, and wants to see him safely returned back home.

In contrast to the usual depiction of lions as courageous and fierce, Alex is a pampered housecat. He, too, goes outside of his comfort zone for the sake of his friend.

“He sings a song about everything and complains about everything,” Giamanco said. “My favorite part is being able to complain. I feel like in real life people would get mad at me if I complained about everything, but as Alex I get to complain about being in the wild.”

With a cast of 20 young actors, “Madagascar” is on the smaller side for TheaterFun productions, Romo said. Past performances have included around 40 cast members.

“It gives these kids a chance to pull out things we would never have known about them, had I had the usual 40 kids,” Romo said. “It’s a blessing having a smaller cast. We’re using all of the little kids, who would have been in the ensemble. But with this show, they get a chance to take a leading role. Like Hermine, she is knocking it out of the park.”

Hermine Bergstuen Gullaksen, 9, plays “Gloria” the hippopotamus. A sassy fashionista, she provides comic relief as she dances her way through the scenes.

“That’s the most fun for me, being able to slow things down and work with these kids,” Romo said. “You don’t get that chance when you have a lot of kids.”

This kind of experience has life-long benefits for the participating children, she said. It teaches confidence, public speaking skills, and coping mechanisms for anxiety and stage fright.

“It’s terrifying to get on stage to audition,” Romo said. “When kids come in on the first day of theater class and audition, they are horrified. Weeks later, you’ll be asking, ‘Is this the same group? What did you do with those scared kids?’ You can see the growth in their comfort and ability to get onstage and talk. They are going to need that as they get older.”

Compared to her first experience in theater, which was also “Madagascar” with Carol Romo in 2017, Bergot said she has grown in confidence.

“When I started, I was so nervous,” she said. “I didn’t even go on most of the time for the show. I was crying, I was so nervous. And now, I am one of the lead characters. I have grown so much, both vocally and as an actor.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill based freelance reporter and columnist.