Review: ZooNation in Some Like It Hip Hop at Peacock Theatre

Performance: 20 October - 19 November 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 26 October 2011

Tommy Franzen airborne in Zoonation's 'Some Like It Hip Hop.

Reviewed: 25 October

The world of entertainment is paved with ‘second album syndrome’ or the curse of a second project failure; whether it is the follow-up music album, a second novel or the second series of a hit TV show, repeating one’s own debut success is the hardest act to follow. And this was the task for Kate Prince and her ZooNation Dance Company, whose first full-length work, Into the Hoods, was a runaway success over several seasons in many locations from separate stints at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to two long runs in the West End.

Prince hit the right button to start strongly by assembling an exceptional cast for Some Like It Hip Hop, including a trio of the most watchable dancers around in Tommy Franzén, Lizzie Gough and Teneisha Bonner. A project with these three at the performing helm was never likely to fail. Franzén, already one of Britain’s best dance performers in any style, has added a few spectacular tricks to his repertoire, which added to his innate musicality and casual control in the central role of Simeon Sun, have taken him on to an even higher plane of dance excellence. He has a significant chemistry with love-interest Gough (both finalists from the inaugural British Season of So You Think You Can Dance on BBC1_)_ and their duet at the beginning of the second act clearly elevated the performance energy. Gough is that rare perfomer who manages to project sex appeal without trying and is perhaps all the more vivacious because of her demureness – I’ve definitely never seen a more attractive performer wearing cycling shorts, knee bandages, thick glasses, a man’s wig and facial hair. Her dance style does not depend upon explosive tricks but on a unique blend of popping, locking and jazz styles, threaded through with the flexibility and balance that can only be achieved through a serious dollop of yoga. Bonner is the only one of the three with history in ZooNation, having created and played the key role of Spinderella in Into the Hoods for several years. She has a superb all-around street style and a magnificent athletic physique (with abs to die for!); although she certainly doesn’t suit a thick moustache!

Though it would be easy to imagine Some Like It Hip Hop to be a spoof on the famous Billy Wilder film (Some Like It Hot) – with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon – the only main reference is in the cross-dressing of the two leads, though here it is gender-swapping in reverse. In the film, Curtis and Lemmon become members of an all-woman band to escape the attentions of the mob, after unwittingly witnessing something akin to the Valentine’s Day massacre; and here, Gough and Bonner dress as men to get back into a city from which they have been expelled after breaking the “no women allowed” rules of “The Governor” (a suitably imposing cameo by Duwane Taylor).

The story itself is often hard to follow and, in particular, the opening sequences are cluttered and fussy, with regular set movements and the rat-a-tat introduction of too many characters. None of this was helped by some peripheral technical problems with the Narrator’s microphone, which made some words unintelligible to the audience in the Dress Circle. This was a pity because actor, Tachia Newall, had considerable charisma when we could hear his whole sentences. However, all quibbles are brushed aside when the dancing gets going in earnest and the second act is thankfully free of the narrative clutter that clogged up the early scenes. The original music by DJ Walde and Josh Cohen (with lyrics by Prince herself) was a little hit and miss although I suspect that the tunes will grow on me over time. Sherona Knight was certainly a songstress to take note of, dominating the stage whenever she was performing.

Any concerns about the slow start are long forgotten by the time of a rousing gospel-style finale, which follows on from a last, brief dance cameo in the spotlight from the entire cast, including the non-dance crew. At the end, everyone is lined up at the front of the stage and with little need of encouragement it has the entire audience on its feet for an encore. Just as with Into The Hoods, Prince and her team know how to send an audience home happy and in doing so she has done more than enough to wipe out any ‘second album syndrome’ .

Continues at the Peacock Theatre until 19 November
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