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NEIGHBORS: ‘Madagascar Jr.’ full of dancing and fun at the historic Princess Theater this weekend

DECATUR – In what may be a first, a hippopotamus and a zebra will be on stage at the Princess Theater this weekend. So will a lion and a giraffe.

The hippo will be wearing a beehive wig and jeweled shoes. The zebra will be sporting a leather jacket and a snappy fedora. Both will be dancing.

It isn’t some wacky circus. The Dream Weavers theater group will present the family friendly musical “Madagascar Jr.” for three shows Friday through Sunday. The “Jr.” part is important — the show is suited for all ages, and no one in the 47-person cast is older than 18.

The play is based on the Disney “Madagascar” movie, explained Susan Thompson, the director. It follows the adventures of four main animal characters as they escape from the Central Park zoo and end up in Madagascar.

Marty the zebra “feels so cooped up in the zoo that he just wants to go out in the wild and find out about the rest of the world,” Thompson said. Alex the lion is happy at the park but goes along with Marty because they’re buddies.

“The whole story is about friendship, even through hard times,” Thompson said.

Although no time frame is specified in the show, Thompson decided it would be cool to dress the characters in 1950s costumes.

The four iconic looks from that era, she said, are Sinatra-style crooners, greasers, nerds with taped glasses and “beauty queens with their pearl necklaces, their beehives and all that.”

Aiden Hodges, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Priceville Junior High, plays Marty.

“He’s a very fun character to play,” said Aiden. “He has multiple personalities and you never know what’s next from him.”

When he found out he got one of the lead roles, “I just screamed ‘I got Marty!’” he said.

Marty’s leather jacket has zebra fur, his tuxedo pants and gloves are in a zebra print. His fedora has a mane and ears.

The show includes lots of music, singing and dancing.

“I dance so much I don’t even know how I keep my shoes on,” Aiden said.

Home-schooled high school senior Bella Clifton of Decatur plays Gloria the hippo. Her costume is a fluffy gray skirt and embellished cardigan, jewel-covered shoes and “a giant pink beehive wig,” she said.

“She’s a sassy, mother-like character and once I got that in my brain it became way easier to learn,” she said. After weeks of rehearsals, “once that curtain rises, I’m Gloria.”

Bella figures this is her 15th stage show.

“I found Dream Weavers and I absolutely love it and I’ve tried to do every show I can.”

The story is similar to the Disney movie, she said, but with added songs that will entertain children.

“I think little kids would absolutely love it and would be very intrigued as to what’s going on onstage.”

“It’s a great show for kids because it is a junior version,” said Thompson. “Junior versions only last about an hour and 15 minutes,” plus a brief intermission.

“We have to sign a contract saying we will not cast anybody over the age of 18,” she said. “The four main leads in the show, two are 13 and two of them are 17. It’s really cool.”

The fast-paced production includes colorful characters, funny lines and vibrant mosaic-like sets.

“Kids would really enjoy this, but there’s a lot of humor that adults will get too,” Thompson said.

The zebra agreed.

“All age groups will love this play,” Aiden said.

After eight weeks and roughly 60 hours of rehearsals, Dream Weavers will perform “Madagascar Jr.” for area school students in the 677-seat Princess on the day before it opens to the public.

The all-volunteer cast includes students from Decatur and Austin high schools, as well as Priceville, Hartselle, Elkmont, Athens and Madison. The youngest is just 7 or 8.

Dream Weavers formed in the 1980s under the umbrella of the Decatur Parks and Recreation Department, Thompson said, but disbanded when participation waned.

When Thompson retired from teaching drama at Austin High School, she and another teacher decided to revive it under the name Dream Weavers Children’s Theater.

“We got to where we had so many young adults that were wanting to do things,” she said. “We felt like after a few years we would just kind of drop the ‘children’s theater.’

“We’re trying to just go with Dream Weavers so it allows us to do some other stuff.”

Dream Weavers rehearses in former nursery space at Central United Methodist Church and builds sets at Austin Junior High, among other places.

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