Behind the Scenes with Maria Norris and Steven Makropoulos from Madagascar The Musical

Marty, Alex and Gloria dance in front of zookeepers.

Sarah Garofalo and Eric Cooper spoke with Maria Norris and Steven Makropoulos of Madagascar The Musical about their roles, the show, their careers and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Sarah: Thank you for joining us on Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. This is Sarah Garofalo and today I’m joined with my colleague Eric Cooper. Today we’re interviewing two very special people from Madagascar The Musical, coming to The Hanover Theatre on May 19 at 6:30pm, generously sponsored by Reliant Medical Group. I’m joined by Steven Makropoulos and Maria Norris, welcome to the show.

Maria: Hi, guys.

Steven: Hey, hey. Happy to be here in Worcester!

Sarah: Thank you for joining us. We’re super excited. I just need to get it out of the way and ask you my first question which is, do you like to “move it, move it?”

Maria: We do. In fact, like, move it move it. Steven is the king of “Move it, move it” actually.

Steven: Yeah, it’s, it is a showstopper every time we do it, and we’re trying to get a standing ovation every time we do that song. So far, so good. We’ve been doing it.

Julian the King Lemur, Alex the Lion, and the other animals gather around in front of a purple background.
© Woody Myers

Sarah: I love that. I know the crowds here in Worcester are very generous with their standing ovations, so I have no doubt that there will be one on May 19.

Eric: Steve and Maria, you both said that “Move it, Move it” was a great song. Are there any other songs that you enjoy?

Maria: There are a ton of really fun songs in the show. “Move It, Move It” is definitely the standout, the one that everyone knows and loves, but there are a lot of original songs to this musical, as well. One of my favorites is called “Paradise,” which is just kind of a big beach party on stage. There are drinks, there’s leis, there’s flowers, there’s food, there’s limbo and it’s just a good time.

Steven: My favorite song is a two-parter. “Wild and Free,” which is sung by Marty the Zebra. It’s his big solo where he dreams about being out in the wild. Our Marty, Sterling McClary, he just brings a soul to it. You just really feel that he just wants to get out there. It’s just such a great song that I think will get stuck in people’s ears.

Sarah: I love it. That sounds super exciting. This is based off of the 2005 movie “Madagascar,” but for those who haven’t seen it in about 18 years, can you give us a little rundown of what the show is about?

Maria: Yeah, sure. This show is about four zoo animals. We have Marty the Zebra, Alex the Lion, I’m Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe. Marty decides that he doesn’t want to do zoo life anymore. He wants to be wild and free. He wants to escape the zoo and go back to the wild. We kind of go after him and we end up on this crazy adventure where we wind up in Madagascar. We meet all these crazy lemurs, like the King of the lemurs, Steven himself, and the adventure continues. It’s just a good time and a wild ride.

Melman, Alex, Marty and Gloria are in boxes in transit.
© Woody Myers

Sarah: That is so exciting. I know that I absolutely loved the movie when it came out and I am beyond excited to see it on our stage. I want to talk a little bit about both of your careers in performing and how you ended up in this industry.

Steven: Excellent question. I just always knew I wanted to do it. When I was eight, I declared, “I want to be an actor. I want to make people laugh.” I just kind of followed that instinct for the next 22 years after that. I love what I do. It’s been great.

Maria: I am actually from Massachusetts, so performing in Worcester is really exciting for me. I also started when I was really young. When I was five years old, my parents put me in our local community theater group, and I did my very first show, which was The Frog Prince. I was a frog, and here I am still playing animals 30 years later. It’s been a really good time for me. I went to college for it, and I’ve been doing it professionally ever since. Now, here we are on the Madagascar first national US tour.

Steven: My first role was the innkeeper. We were doing a reenactment of Mother Mary and Joseph looking for a place to give birth to Jesus. I was the innkeeper and I came out of the closet, and I was like, “There’s no room. You can’t stay here.”

Sarah: That’s so funny. I love it. Maria, I love that you’re from Massachusetts. Have you ever been to The Hanover Theatre before?

Maria: I have, I’ve seen several tours pass through The Hanover Theatre and I’m so excited that it’s my turn. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous space. We’re so lucky that we get to grace the stage because so many iconic performances have happened there. I think my favorite one was Sister Act. I love that show, and in that space, it was an incredible, incredible performance for me. It really left a long-lasting impression. I’m really excited to have my turn on that stage. Also, to get to explore backstage and feel what it’s like to be an actor instead of a patron. It’s a nice switch up for me.

Sarah: Oh, that’s so fun. I love stories like that. I’m super excited to welcome you back to the theatre.

Eric: Thank you so much for telling us about your experiences. Speaking of being an actor and getting in character. Do you feel like you have any personal similarities or differences in your character? How you can compare?

Gloria, Melman, Marty and Alex gather around a cake and appear to be blowing out the candles.
© Woody Myers

Steven: Oh, that’s a good question. As for differences, all of them. I don’t want to take away from the magic, but I’m actually human. I’m actually not a lemur. It’s called acting, Eric. As for similarities. I am quite the silly goose, so being King Julian has been one of the easiest experiences in my acting career. It really has. It really helps that 20% of my lines, I get to improvise. If I don’t like something, I can kind of just say something else and change it in the moment. In terms of differences, King Julian is very happy. We all know the character. He’s very much a buffoon. I just like to act like a buffoon, but I’m actually very smart. I read books and I don’t think King Julian does. There’s just obvious differences, right? King Julian, I don’t know where you find him in real life. There’s got to be nothing but differences between us. What about you, Maria?

Maria: Of course. It’s one of those movies that has these iconic voices. We had Ben Stiller voiced Alex, Chris Rock voice Marty and Jada Pinkett Smith voiced Gloria. The movie is iconic on its own. We’re kind of doing this new interpretation of it. One of the really cool things about it is, even though we’re playing animals, our director really instructed us to find the humanity in them.

Even though you’re seeing these larger-than-life animals and puppets on stage, at the core of the show is friendship and humanity.

Maria Norris

Maria: That’s where we get to bring a lot of ourselves to these characters because we all live together, work together and tour together. We also are really, really close just as a unit. I think you really see that on stage. When Steven starts to improv, he’s cracking all of us up because we understand what’s going on in his brain. It’s been a really fun time to discover these characters and relate them back to the movie in 2005 that was so well loved. It’s a really good time for us and it’s going to be really fun for kids who have never seen the movie or kids who have seen the movie, and adults who are really excited to share their experience with their kids.

Eric: Oh, great answers. Thank you.

Sarah: When I first saw the movie, I was probably seven or eight and now I’m in my mid-20s, so I can enjoy this as an adult. I’m sure there’s a bunch of people who were kids at the time that they saw the movie and now have their own kids and can introduce the next generation to such an iconic story.

Maria: Exactly. That’s really exciting for us, as well as something that’s a shared experience that we’re all getting to have. It’s recommended for ages three and up so it has humor for everyone.

It’s not just for kids and it’s not just for adults. It really bridges the gap of what theatre is and what it can be.

Maria Norris

Maria: It’s also a really great introduction to younger audiences to theatre because it has the movie as a source material, but provides a new experience of seeing live actors on stage in these costumes. It also introduces puppetry, so there’s a lot of new and creative forms of theater going on in the show. It’s also very palatable; it’s short and sweet. It’s not a three-hour long thing. It’s nice and concise and it’s well put together.

Steven: It probably runs about 90 minutes.

Maria: Yeah, with the intermission. It never stops moving. You never get bored because it really does move at such a great pace.

Steven: Exactly, exactly.

Sarah: I love it. I’m just beyond excited. I think it’s going to be so much fun. I know Eric is super excited.

Eric: Absolutely, yeah.

Sarah: Before we wrap up, I just want to say again, this is Madagascar The Musical coming to The Hanover Theatre on May 19 at 6:30 PM. Tickets start at just $39.50, so super affordable, fun family outing. Bring your friends, bring your family because it’s going to be a super funky, fantastic time. Do you guys have any parting words?

Maria: Thank you so much for having us. We’re really excited to be spreading the word about the show. We’re super excited to be touring on the road. Again, I’m just so excited to be coming through Massachusetts.

Four zookeepers celebrate and dance outside the Central Park Zoo.
© Woody Myers

Steven: Parents, you’re going to love this show. Kids, you’re going to love the show, too. I can’t wait for everybody to experience it in Worcester.

Maria: We really encourage you to have a good time with us. One of our favorite things about the show is it’s a shared experience and it’s interactive. It lets you laugh along with us. It invites you to laugh out loud and to really live through the show as we are. We want you on your feet dancing and moving it, moving it.

Sarah: I love it. That’s perfect. Maria and Steven, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute honor to speak to you.

Maria: Cheers. Thanks, guys.

Steven: Likewise, thank you so much for having us.