Review: ZooNation - Into the Hoods: Remixed - The Peacock

Performance: 23 October - 14 November 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 2 November 2015

ZoonNation 'Into the Hoods: Remixed'. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Choreographer Kate Prince and the charismatic members of ZooNation inject some fresh zest into a revamped version of the award winning Into The Hoods, which was a hip hop take on Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Into the Hoods: Remixed contains subtle changes and tweaked choreography, design and music rather than a huge make-over, partly to enable the new cast make their own mark on the work rather than dance in the shadow of its original performers.

Another important reason for reviving the show is to enthuse a younger generation of audience members, so Prince has updated sound tracks as well as the costumes with such youngsters in mind. But the musical is not just intended for children or teenagers who love hip hop. Evocative references are made to the roots of hip hop and acknowledgement of the rich black cultural terrain that preceded it. The music, directed by DJ Walde, is an inexhaustible list of tracks which delight us maturer viewers for their nostalgic powers and frustrate with their brevity.

DJ Walde takes us on a tour of black popular music from jazz, disco, R&B, motown, soul and rap while the performers remind us of earlier black dance styles such as lindy hop, jive and disco: the ensemble dance lindy hop at the ball, and disco in the penthouse at the top of Beanstalk Towers.

Each of the main characters have their own hip hop identity: intense Spinderella (Lucinda Wessels) the talented DJ, feisty rapper MC Rap-on-Zel (Jade Hackett), narcissistic the soulful singer Lil Red (Natasha Gooden), celebrity wannabe Prince , low self-esteem music producer Jaxx (*Corey Culverwell) and the predatory record manager Wolf (Duwayne Taylor). Empowering roles for the women mean that there are no insipid princesses or passive sleeping beauties. While they represent cool dudes of today’s youth culture, the Jamaican landlord, the ugly sisters and Lil Red’s grandmother provide a good balance of older characters. It’s the versatility and talent of ZooNation’s dancers which make the show so exciting to watch; and while each performer has their change to shine, it’s the team effort which excels.

Sondheim’s musical is a mash up of fairy tales but here the stories are sampled through hip hop narratives. Each of the main characters’ stories unfold through the central plot of two lost kids on the Ruff Endz Estate who have to find symbols of hip hop credibility for Rap-on-Zel’s 18th birthday: an iphone, a hoodie, a blond weave and gold trainers. As well as through witty banter, the show’s comic edge emerges in the affectionate send up of hip hop fashions and fads. Highlighted too are the actual skills used in rapping and turn-tabling such as movement phrases which are rewound, repeated or speeded up.

Although the narrative fizzles out after the kids have found the four objects and there’s a slight loss of momentum, the performance finishes with touching real life endings rather than fake celebrity ones.

Into the Hoods:Remixed may not make the same massive impact that the original version made when it first opened on a west end stage in 2008, one of the first hip hop theatre shows of its kind – but it still delights with its funky flavours, relevance and forceful energy.

Continues at The Peacock until 14 November

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

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