Into The Hoods @ Novello Theatre, London

directed by
Kate Prince
There’s an underlying message in Into the Hoods – stealing is not the way to get things done – but director/choreographer Kate Prince doesn’t quite heed her own moral. Instead she lifts her storyline wholesale from Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into the Woods. There again, Sondheim and his collaborator James Lapine nicked their plot from the likes of the Brothers Grimm so maybe there are worthy exceptions to the rule.

How do you describe Into the Hoods without resorting to clich? Well, it’s youthful, exuberant, energetic, uplifting and a joyous celebration of dance so, not easily. What it has is a stupendously attractive and talented cast, a pounding soundtrack, film, live action, graphics (clever intertwinings of the two), quick-cut editing, bags of humour, product placement, breakdancing geriatrics, some amazing kids, great visual gags and non-stop hip hop choreography that takes the breath away.

The production by dance troupe ZooNation, founded in 2002 by Prince (Kate, that is, not the other one), begins with a very funny warm-up stand-up by one Mr Gee, signalling that this is going to be a show like no other. From then on in, it hurtles at breakneck speed through two hours without interval, the cast barely taking a breath as they work their socks off.

The show wittily transposes the key players from Sondheim’s fairytale world to the graffiti-riddled Ruff Endz Estate, so Cinderella becomes sexy female DJ Spinderella, Rapunzel is Rap-on-Zel trapped in a high tower block, Little Red Riding Hood is Lil Red conned by the unscrupulous Wolf into signing a record contract and Giant, a drug-peddling Mr Big who lives aloft in a penthouse on the top floor. Two children escape from school and journey into the hoods where they are set the task by the wily Landlord (the character formerly known as Witch) of finding an ipod as white as milk, a hoodie as red as blood, trainers as pure as gold. Anyone who knows the original musical will get the parallels; for those who don’t, it scarcely matters.

It would be easy to say what’s lacking in the show an original plot, original music, live singing, any dialogue at all but that would be to miss the point. The soundtrack whizzes through snatches of numbers by Gorillaz, Basement Jaxx, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Black Eyed Peas, The Chemical Brothers and many others, a mix that must have kept the sound designer busy for months. Not being exactly from the target demographic, I found a fair bit spinning, twirling and roaring over my head but I could tell by the delirious reaction of the crowd around me that the choice and delivery of songs was pretty clever.

This show really is something different for London theatre and it is going to appeal to the all-important young urban population that arts marketeers crave for and rarely reach. I just hope that the ticket price this audience can afford will be enough to sustain the show through a West End run. It deserves to be seen and the target market could hardly be better served.

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