Review Round-up: Critics Feel Good in the Hoods
Date: 31 March 2008
A hit for the past two summers at the Edinburgh Fringe, Into the Hoods had its press performance on 26 March (previews from 14 March) at the Novello Theatre, where it’s currently booking until 10 May (See News, 8 Feb 2008). Owner of the Novello, Cameron Mackintosh, has declared the theatre’s new resident to be “the most exuberant, imaginative and original dance musical since Cats”. But will it have nine lives lasting 21 years in the West End?
A hip-hop version of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Into the Hoods follows two children lost in the ‘hood’. A mysterious landlord befriends the children and sets them off on a mission that leads them to the flats of the Ruff Endz Estate, where they discover gold Adidas trainers; Lil Red, the owner of the bright red hoodie; Rap-on-Zel, the owner of the finest quality long weave (hair extensions) in the city, and Jaxx (who lives in the basement), the owner of a white I-pod.
The show is directed and choreographed by Kate Prince and performed by a cast of 19 adults and nine children (three on stage). The company, ZooNation, employs its trademark narrative street dance/theatre style against a backdrop of music from Gorillaz, Massive Attack, Prince, Basement Jaxx, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, James Brown, Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Black Eyed Peas, Bob Marley, the Chemical Brothers and others. It’s produced by Phil McIntyre and Adam Speers.
This “modern-day dance extravaganza” has sent the critics dancing down the aisles. The “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed appeal” of a production that sends a “feelgood vibe bursting from the stage” had everyone in agreement “that narrative hip-hop dance theatre has a place in the West End”. Kate Prince's “ambitious” and “big-hearted production” was unanimously praised for its “slick, poppy, synchronised street dance” although the storyline was felt to be “a little choppy”. Overall, the show promises a “good fun” night and a “unique theatre experience” through its “innovative” combination of dance, drama and narrative.
Kate Jackson on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “Complete with some impressive break-dancing moves and hoodies all round, this is a unique theatre experience. The audience is actively encouraged to ‘make some noise’, resulting in a carnival-like atmosphere that sometimes feels a little like a pantomime. Unlike a panto, however, there’s some really intelligent thought behind this piece, and it’s difficult not to get swept along in the party spirit ... A hit at Edinburgh for the past two years, Into the Hoods has graduated to the West End pretty well, while retaining its Fringe roots and charm. An opening monologue of poetry and improvisation from an artist called Mr Gee sets the tone - it feels a little like an open mic night … Kate Prince’s excellent choreography and direction ensure that the dance onslaught is varied enough to hold your attention for the full 90 minutes, and the cast are all top-notch movers. An energetic curtain call proves that even the ensemble members possess jaw-dropping skills that defy all laws of gravity and biology. Teneisha Bonner has a particularly impressive solo combining ballet and modern dance. This is unconventional theatre made for an unconventional and – on the night I attended, vociferous – audience, and you can’t help but feel the young company’s real sense of achievement.”
Lyndsey Winship in the Daily Telegraph - “The first rule of going to see hip-hop? Make some noise. This is one show where your vocal appreciation is absolutely encouraged, but that shouldn't be too much of a challenge when the exuberance and the feelgood vibe bursting from the stage are so infectious. It's clever, if occasionally a little choppy, but perfect for short attention spans and people who like bopping in their seats. Overall it works; the show has been tightened up since its previous incarnations, and when it hits its stride, it flows effortlessly. This is not a showcase for hardcore hip-hop, and you won't see much of the competitive power moves, the windmills, flares and head spins you'd get at a serious B-boy battle (although there are lots of back-flips and tricky freezes).The emphasis is on choreographer Kate Prince's slick, poppy, synchronised street dance, laced with plenty of attitude and funk. It's more than MTV moves, though. Prince uses bodies in innovative, theatrical ways, to create atmosphere or as impromptu props. And while the real power is in the ensemble, there are fine individual performances – Teneisha Bonner as Spinderella applies her sculpted physique with precision, and the star of the show has to be seven-year-old Annie Edwards, whose gold-tracksuit-clad fairy godmother is wicked (in a good way). A great show for kids, and everyone else too. You are guaranteed to leave the theatre smiling.”
Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard – “When ZooNation announced it was bringing its hip-hop show Into the Hoods into the West End, those who saw it at the Peacock Theatre in 2006 couldn’t work out why. Two years ago it was a larky hip-hop panto, with good jokes and great moves but it was hardly a hit, and, if we’re honest, parts of it looked more like a youth workshop than something Cameron Mackintosh would have in one of his refurbed theatres. Since its 2006 incarnation, the show has been edited, pruned and reworked. It is longer but tighter, with a clearer storyline and dancing that drives the action rather than just decorates it. There have also been two runs in Edinburgh, plus what looks like considerable investment, with more costumes and better video projections that both locate the action and time-travel the characters through the story. Not everyone believes hip-hop has the dramatic range to tell stories, and, excepting shows like Renee Harris’s Rome + Jules, there are few examples to prove them wrong. Into the Hoods is one, and it’s good fun.”
Donald Hutera in The Times (four stars) - “This quick-witted, big-hearted production by the enterprising young British company ZooNation proves that narrative hip-hop dance theatre has a place in the West End. Into the Hoods enjoyed a brief pilot run at the Peacock Theatre in early 2006; it then went down a storm on the Edinburgh Fringe for two consecutive years. The director and choreographer Kate Prince and her collaborators have now expanded the show without losing any of its bright-eyed and bushy-tailed appeal. In short, it deserves to be a hit yet again. The cast are terrific: exuberant, sexy when they need to be and unexpectedly funny in a broad, cartoon style. Their dancing is watertight and the choreography they created with Prince is consistently inventive. As a brief warm-up act, the charming and politically articulate street poet Mr Gee sets the tone for what amounts to a great night out.”
Matilda Egere-Cooper in the Independent (five stars) - “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.”
- by Melissa Rynn & Kate Jackson
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