A STEP into Sunderland's Empire Theatre this week will take you and your family from the close confines of New York's Central Zoo to the colourful wilds of Madagascar.

Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and a wisecracking gang of penguins are all on hand to escort theatregoers from reality to a world in which a disparate group of institutionalised zoo animals find themselves transported to a more natural habitat.

Via the medium of song and dance, Madagascar The Musical sees audiences carried along with the chaotic crew as they learn to live alongside their wild brethren and come to terms with life outside of their orderly pens.

The plot will come as no surprise to fans of the original film, but the songs at the heart of the stage adaptation offer another dimension to the enduring Dreamworks creation, Madgascar.

They are brought to life with the help of a cast of creature costumed colourful characters, beautifully crafted puppets and X Factor winner Matt Terry, whose preening vocals are a perfect fit for boastful lion Alex.

The entertainingly raucous stylings of the strong-voiced pack and the creative way in which the crew bring to life the much-loved characters help to structure a fast-paced show that will easily hold the attention of the most fidgety little ones.

However, somewhat lacking are the dry wit and humourous asides that make the source film popular with audiences of all ages, with much of the script seemingly sacrificed to the altar of musical theatre.

Albeit with the sharper edges of the source material somewhat blunted, Madagascar the Musical still makes for a lively and entertaining family show.

It can be seen at the Empire Theatre from now until Saturday, September 1.

Joanna Morris