As with any good hip-hop show, the premise for success is really quite simple: the moves, whether taken from B-boy, old-school or modern influences, must pop with precision. Dancers should flow together in a faithful alliance and, as long as flashes of awesome choreography keep the audience enchanted, everybody wins. In this case, Into The Hoods is not only victorious, but Kate Prince's ambitious production sets a precedent in convincing even the most cynical that hip-hop theatre deserves a West End run.
Taking the best bits of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, it turns the classic into a contemporary and energetic comedy-drama with relative ease, helped by clever visuals and a cut-and-paste soundtrack of R&B, hip-hop and other urban favourites that features everyone from Chaka Khan to Dizzee Rascal.
The woods are now Ruff Endz estate, home to the Landlord (Frank Wilson), who seeks to please spoiled daughter Rap-On-Zel (Rhimes Lecointe, who manages to encapsulate the energy of the Missy Elliott and Jade tracks to which she throws shapes).
Given the task of stealing four presents for his daughter, the lost kids meet wily record boss Wolf, who's desperate to sign sassy singer Lil' Red (Sacha Chang), who just happens to have a crush on producer Jaxx (Rowen Hawkins), who's facing eviction and does dodgy dealings with the er, Giant (Jeffrey Felicisimo)... To make matters even more scintillating, Rap-On-Zel's suitor Prince ends up falling for her budd, Spinderella, after she's transformed from a bubble-jacket-wearing freshie to a sexy golden diva, with the eye-popping abs of Janet Jackson.
You sympathise with the two lost truants as they find themselves caught up in the midst of a gang of hoodies, who open the production with a frightfully stunning display.
But these performers equally possess skills so aggressive that they should almost be slapped with Asbos – especially the camp Fairy Gee (the tiny Annie Edwards), who gets the audience wrapped around her pigtails with her audacious dance steps.
As for the rest of the cast, Prince (Roger Davies) leads the comedy, as the self-indulgent player who carelessly struts to the guitar strum of Prince's "Kiss", and who's more concerned with getting laid than pursuing his lacklustre ambitions as a singer. This is followed by the cross-dressing dancers who play the Ugly Sisters and ugly stepmom (Christian Alozie). Alozie's pack boldly storm the stage to Bubba Sparxxx's "Ugly" like pantomime queens, keeping the audience in stitches as they flaunt tiny pink outfits and wigs that barely hide their bulging biceps.
But the beauty of this production is that it doesn't shy away from poignancy. The budding love between Lil' Red and Jaxx is captured superbly – even through the subtlety of sharing his iPod. Then there's Spinderella's distress of not being able to go to the ball – Teneisha Bonner's finest hour, her anguish unveiled through a heart-rending solo. The company's ability to multitask is also commendable, with each dancer taking on multiple roles that hardly disturb the narrative.
On the surface, Into the Hoods is a thrilling and thoughtful show with widespread appeal. There's lindy-hopping, backflips galore and even a cheeky throwback to MC Hammer. But delve a bit further and there's also an underlying social commentary that aims to high-kick the stereotypes of hip-hop and hoodie culture – and that is where this production's success truly lies.
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