ON a cold February night there was no better place to be ... the ideal time to take a winter fantasy trip to magical Madagascar in some very warm and funny company.

This touring show is based on the Dreamworks film from 2005 and certainly appealed to the children with likeable characters played by versatile actors in animals suits - alongside some very talented puppeteers.

It travels the popular, visually engaging, path from big screen animation to live action musical theatre in the same stylised way as the Shrek franchise.

Sometimes costumes can restrict performers, but here the small lively ten cast members managed to convey effective cartoon-like capers with zesty choreography.

The tale revolves around the residents of the New York Central Park Zoo.

We meet Zebra Marty (Antoine Murray-Straughan) who pines for the wide open spaces.

His pal Alex the confident 'king' lion (X Factor winner Matt Terry) is the best buddy to have around.

A catchy duet sets the scene on that relationship.

And there's the lovely odd couple Melman, the goofy hypochondriac giraffe (Jamie Lee-Morgan) and feisty hippo Gloria (Timmika Ramsay).

Marty does a runner and the worried chums go off in search of their dream-searching pal.

They end up in crates on a ship - relayed cleverly by illuminated crates on a slick set designed by Tom Rogers that is consistently awash with colour.

Four penguins also aim to get back to where they once belonged to the Antarctic.

This quirky quartet reminded me of The Beatles with their wacky and wry exploits of the '60s.

When our heroes reach Madagascar they meet King Julien (Jo Parsons) - a real hit with children and adults alike producing many laugh-out-loud moments.

He is a sparkling highlight with his comic timing - especially on a raucous rendition of the infectious song and dance routine Move it, Move It.

Director Kirk Jameson keeps the 140-minute (including interval) show paced nicely.

The puppeteers really are exceptional with wonderful dexterity throughout.

Never a dull moment.

How could there be when a cheeky monkey puppet welcomes the audience at the start by telling them to switch off their mobiles.

A smashing, feel good production that works on all levels.

Love, loyalty and friendship will conquer all.

What a joyous, timeless message to take away with you.


Four stars

The show ends its Liverpool Empire this Saturday (February 9).

Tickets from the box office on 0844871 3017.