Some Like it Hip Hop

Kate Prince

ZooNation Dance Company

Peacock Theatre

From 20 September 2012 to 13 October 2012

Review by Vera Liber

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Take and invert Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot; borrow some Shakespeare. Sprinkle with fairy tale morality (the first scene is clearly labelled ‘once upon a time’). Add original catchy music, clever lyrics, some fine choreography, high-octane high-performance street style dancing, stunning singing, and a whole lot of love.

Shake it up, and what do you get? A charming wholesome feel-good West End musical comedy full of clichés, character and wit. Who’d have thought… ZooNation founder and director Kate Prince did.

Prince has form: she had the vision to found a company (in 2002) to provide a permanent base for street dancers working in the commercial music industry; she directed and co-choreographed Into the Hoods, the first hip hop dance show to open in the West End, first at the Peacock Theatre in 2006, then at the Novello Theatre in 2008; in 2010 ZooNation became a Resident Company at Sadler’s Wells, and Kate Prince became an Associate Artist.

Together with Felix Harrison (book), DJ Walde and Josh Cohen (music), she is credited with book, lyrics, and as director and choreographer of this zany send-up of hip hop misogyny, an amazing dance vehicle, and a simple big-hearted sad and funny tale of rebellion, cross-dressing, broken hearts and true love.

In a fit of madness Governor Okeke (imposing krumping Duwane Taylor) blots the sun out from his city and exiles his female subjects beyond the city walls. A dystopian man’s world: segregation of the sexes, no good can come of this.

In a subterranean office, with raised walkway for the singers, the chorus to the unfolding events, men in brown overalls slave at typewriters whilst women file and dust, ‘seen but not heard’.

Oh, and books are banned and burned. Orwell pokes his nose in, and Ray Bradbury… But, two enterprising young women dress as men and apply for jobs within, and, as in Shakespeare and Wilder, much hilarity ensues. 

One Jo-Jo Jameson (Lizzie Gough) falls for swot Simeon Sun (Tommy Franzén in Pringle pullover, bowtie and too-short trousers), both in specs, and the other is Kerri Kimbalayo, the astounding Teneisha Bonner, who has perfected the best macho male swagger ever. Their bunk beds scene is lifted almost straight from the film. And the two mistaken identity love scenes run parallel on a split stage.

Infiltration, subversion, and the return of the Governor’s long-lost daughter Oprah (Natasha Gooden) eventually defrost the ruler’s heart, seized up with grief since his wife’s death fifteen years ago. Light and joy are restored to ‘Illyria’.

There’s a Welsh-accented narrator (beat-boxing Ross Green) with great audience rapport, a range of music, not just hip hop beats but acoustic guitar ballads, jazz, soul, funk, blues, R&B, and pop, whatever hits the spot. And spot the Aretha Franklin homage in singer Arethia Arin (Elliotte Williams-N’Dure).

Solos, duets, trios, pas de six, and fourteen scenes of disciplined dynamic dance and mime not only from Tommy Franzén, Teneisha Bonner, Lizzie Gough, Natasha Gooden, and Duwane Taylor, but also from Robert Anker (Olympic standard gymnastics), hard man Denny Haywood, scary Andry Oporia, quiet Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton, and Shaun Smith who pratfalls with precision as Shakespearean fool Sudsy Partridge.

Ben Stones’s superb grimy set, Johanna Town’s magical lighting and smoky spots, George Pakenham’s sound design, Ryan Chappell’s 1950s costume designs… the entire creative team and dancing crew bring a vivacity and an energy that spills into the auditorium.

ZooNation has the press night audience in its hands throughout, but especially in the explosive white tuxedo, with three shimmying female singers in shimmering black gowns, cabaret finale, which hits the heights. ‘Anyone can dance’.

Vibrating with vigour and vim, audience clapping and dancing in the aisles, Some Like it Hip Hop is a great night out for all ages, coach and hen parties, family and friends. Just when we thought the story was wrapped up, the breaking, locking and popping solo bows and planned encores seem to keep on coming.

Praised sky high last year Some Like it Hip Hop has returned, with cast intact, to a resounding welcome from its original London venue. A ZooNation and Sadler’s Wells co-production, supported by Arts Council England, Curve Leicester and Wales Millennium Centre, Some Like it Hip Hop will be undertaking its first UK tour to Salford, Truro, Canterbury, Guildford, Edinburgh, Bradford, Leicester, Nottingham and Wolverhampton. Keep a lookout.