Before curtain up, a remixed and distorted version of "There Ain't Nothing Like a Dame" fills the auditorium as the largely teenaged audience clap with anticipation. Itís an early indication of how Nitroís new hip-hop musical, Slamdunk, attempts Ė quite successfully - to add new ideas to an old genre.
Blending basketball, hip-hop and rap, Felix Cross and Benji Reid have created a streetwise and stylish tale of rivalry, peer pressure and ambition. Cory (Kenrick Sandy), the best basketball player on the block, wants to leave his team, the Zeros, and step up a gear with the A List pros. But this will mean turning his back on his friends and family. Will he disown them to fulfil his dream?
Soweto Kinch's punchy music, accompanied by Zena Edwardsí clever lyrics, drive the fairly slim narrative forward. The best hip-hop track of the evening is "Two Steps Forward, Fifty Back", performed with real gusto by Richie Campbell, Doyle Richards and Curtis Flowers. This talented trio move across the stage like lightning and play off each other well.
The ensemble are the real sportsmen of the piece - each time they make a slam dunk, the audience go wild. Paradigmz is suitably menacing as Cory's nemesis, Franklin, while Charlie Foloronsho brings much needed humour as the old coach who hopes to turn our threesome into winners.
Reid and Cross' deft writing and direction ensure that the stage is constantly filled with sport, music or knockabout comedy. As a result, youíre never left feeling short changed. Sure, the story is essentially as old as the hills, but through their inspired combination of hip hop and sport, the creators have achieved something truly different within the musical genre and it works.
Slamdunk may not please purists, but it certainly engaged the young audience on the night I attended. Many of the teenagers didnít even appear embarrassed about being spotted in a theatre, which surely speaks for itself.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at Manchesterís Contact Theatre)