HE’S reached the final of Strictly Come Dancing, he helped to educate the nation’s children during lockdown, and he’s appeared on the West End stage.

Now Karim Zeroual is playing an eccentric, and delusional, lemur - and to say he’s getting into the role would be an understatement. “I’ve been honing in on what King Julien might actually be like as a human,” smiles Karim. “It may sound a bit ‘method’ but I’m trying to get some insight into why and how he has pulled together this ‘crew’ where whatever he says goes!”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Karim loves playing King Julien Karim loves playing King Julien (Image: Bradford Theatres)

King Julien heads up the animal cast in Madagascar the Musical, the hit family show coming to the Alhambra next week. Based on the hit DreamWorks animated film, it follows the crack-a-lackin’ friends as they find themselves on a journey to the madcap world of King Julien’s Madagascar.

Alex is king of the urban jungle - the main attraction at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The lion and his pals, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo, have spent their lives in captivity and, with an admiring public and regular meals, it’s a pretty good life. But when Marty lets curiosity get the better of him he makes his escape, with the help of some plotting penguins. Soon they’re out of the zoo and in the ‘real world’...

Leading the cast as King Julien is popular TV presenter and theatre performer Karim. “I’ve not seen the stage show before, although I love the films, so it’s nice to bring my own twist to the role,” he says.

“There’s a sense of responsibility in bringing to life a character that everyone knows so well and loves which is a bit scary but I think I’m doing a good job so far. There’s a lot of room for playing with the character and improvisation. I also get to perform arguably the most iconic song from the show - Move it Move it. It feels like a mini rave on stage.

“I’m having so much fun. I think the best thing is working with such a talented cast. It’s been a long time since I’ve done musical theatre, really since I was a kid. I’ve done panto and a few dance tours but not the full shebang. I’m loving being back onstage.”

Is a bit of King Julien in you? “I think there actually is you know! I’m quite small and look like a lemur...ha ha. I can be a little flamboyant and cheeky, so I think some traits yes.

“I also play Zeke at the start of the show. He’s like a zookeeper who introduces the animals. That feels a bit like home from home for me as it’s something I’ve done all my career as a presenter. Playing a human role, I’m able to show a bit more of ‘me’. It’s great to play two separate parts, in one I’m hardly recognisable.

“The costumes in this show are just amazing. That’s when the character really comes to life for me.”

You’re having to test your dancing skills again - this time on your knees? “Yes, I’ve been rehearsing on my knees. By the end of the tour I’ll have the toughest knees in musical theatre!

“When King Julien appears it’s a real ‘moment’, a gear change in the show, as the Zoosters are thrown into this crazy new world of Madagascar. Having been used to the creature comforts of the zoo, they’re surrounded by these non-conforming animals who are just wild. It’s hilarious as all the other cast tower over me and he’s just this mad delusional lemur behaving as if he’s king of the universe even though he’s only about 3ft tall.”

Karim shot to fame on CBBC and has hosted BBC’s Young Dancer of the Year as well as fronting events with the BBC National Orchestra. In 2020 he presented BBC Bitesize, educating children during lockdown. Other TV work includes EastEnders and his West End credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Lion King and Here Come The Boys.

He says: “I love TV and have done it for a long time but there’s no feeling like being on stage and having that immediate reaction from an audience. The lovely thing about touring is each audience in each city is like a new show for us. You get a whole new buzz.”

* Madagascar is at the Alhambra from February 14 -18. Call (01274) 432000 or visit bradford-theatres.co.uk