Onstage in Fayetteville: ‘Madagascar the Musical’ promises fun for kids, career for puppeteer

Onstage in Fayetteville: ‘Madagascar the Musical’ promises fun for kids, career for puppeteer

A silly animated tale about following your dreams is getting a live-action makeover — and then there are the penguins.

“We have some brand new songs that are inspired by moments of the film, [so] everybody’s featured in their own way,” explains Alex Burnette, the puppet captain for “Madagascar the Musical.” “The penguins get their little spy entrance, which is personally one of my favorite parts because I play Skipper, the penguin.”

Onstage June 2-3 at the Walton Arts Center, “Madagascar the Musical” promises the same family-friendly story from the Dreamworks film series.

“At the end of the day, they realize it doesn’t really matter where we are — we’re family, we’re friends. We’ll always be there for each other,” Burnette says. “Then you have the penguins kind of wandering around doing their own thing.”

“It’s very silly, very fun. The kids love it,” he adds. “The puppets are very fun. They’re very colorful and faithful to the designs from the film, too.”

The show isn’t all puppets, though.

“The four lead characters: Alex the lion, Marty the zebra and Gloria the hippo are all actors in costumes. Then you have Melman the giraffe, who is part costume, part puppet.”

The cast sings and dances while trying not to giggle with the audience.

“It’s even harder when we have our King Julian improvising and making new things up every day,” Burnette says of his costar Steven Makropoulos. Burnette plays Maurice, the sidekick to the ridiculous ruler.

“[Makropoulos] gets a good deal of pleasure from making us laugh too. So that makes it even more difficult.”

Luckily Burnette is a trained actor and a puppeteer, who first got on stage in his hometown of Atlanta. He grew up regularly going to the Center for Puppetry Arts, which houses a Jim Henson Museum and hosts an array of puppet shows for kids and experimental puppet shows for adults.

“I think I just got lucky and got bitten by this bug early on during school field trips to this center where we would see puppet shows and touring puppet shows. And I was always a huge Muppets fan, of course,” he says.

“I started making my own puppets when I was in middle school. I kept doing that into high school,” he explains. In college, he majored in musical theater and worked in the puppet workshop at the Center during the summer.

After earning a bachelor of fine arts from Marymount Manhattan College, Burnette also played Linus in the national tour of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and continued his work in puppetry.

“I just always kept up that skill and now in my mid-late 20s, it’s primarily what I work in,” he says, adding that he’s excited about the ways that TV, movies and even Broadway productions occasionally bring in puppetry to shows.

“We’re getting away from CGI a little bit, so a lot of things are coming back to puppetry,” he says. “It’s a bit of the right time and the right place for me.”

Puppetry isn’t the only fringe calling Burnette has answered. He’s a musician who has found a way to marry his flair for the dramatic with his love of song into a character, Burnette the Barker.

“I perform that character at Cedar Fair theme parks. It’s a little touring role that I do at Halloween time,” he explains. “He’s a carnival barker. He runs the circus. And I play accordion and do insult comedy. So it’s a wild time.”

Since it’s graduation season, we asked him what he would tell himself right out of college. He says that he would encourage himself to not be afraid to say no sometimes and to keep following his interests.

“I would tell myself to follow the weird niche interests that I always had — puppetry specifically, but also, things like playing the accordion or playing piano,” he says. “From what I have found, it will bring you back to the core of why you want to do it.”



‘Madagascar The Musical’

WHAT — Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria and Maurice “move it” on the Baum Walker Stage in a musical adaptation of the animated movie with familiar songs and new tunes featuring actors and puppets. Run time 1 hour and 40 minutes with intermission. Recommended for ages 3 and older.

WHEN — 7 p.m. June 2; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. June 3

COST — $25-$53

INFO — waltonartscenter.org; madagascarontour.com

Categories: Theater