Eight years after its debut, Some Like It Hip Hop returns to the stage, finally securing hip hop a deserving home in West End theatre.
A comical tale of false and mistaken identity, Some Like It Hip Hop draws inspiration from classic tales Some Like it Hot and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Told purely through choreography with original music, the show is true to its hip hop roots: storytelling through the four elements of hip hop. The traditional MCing, DJing, breaking and graffiti art are represented here by narration, live music, colourful costumes and just about every style of street dance you could ask for.
And that’s why, despite more than ten years of critical acclaim and immense popularity, it still feels as though ZooNation The Kate Prince Dance Company is underrated. The ability of the cast of dancers to act out comedy and drama, to switch from popping to breaking to locking to backflips is really only matched by Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Hamilton.
The choreography itself isn’t just a smorgasbord of styles. Each movement is carefully tailored to the characters and their purpose. In the beginning, the misery of life under a regime is conveyed by mechanical, repetitive and isolated choreography – sharp movements and clean lines that let the audience know that this is life boxed in, kept in line. But as two women take it upon themselves to dress up in disguise as men and the comedy ensues, the movement becomes full of life, free and energetic. The audience watches as slaves turn to rebels and gain a new lease of life, celebrated with headspins, flips and classic hip hop moves evoking a feeling of being at a house party in the Bronx in the 1980s.
In fact, every kind of style that falls under the umbrella term of ‘street dance’ is represented here. Although it is a hip hop theatre show – not a musical – it would be doing the production (and the choreographers) a disservice to call the dance hip hop and leave it at that. Technically, hip hop dance refers to the 90s moves that originated from New York City: the criss cross, the cabbage patch, the party machine. But we also have popping (coming from Oakland, California in the 1960s and 1970s) and krump, an emotional and aggressive style intended to replace violence as a way of self-expression that developed early in the 2000s. Locking is performed in spades by the ultra-talented locker Tommy Franzen: a funk style originating from Los Angeles in the 1970s during the days of soul train – today, something of a niche style, popular in Korea, Japan, the UK and France.
All styles, in fact, that were largely developed and made popular by men. Don Campbell, Popin’ Pete, Crazy Legs. I suspect creator Kate Prince knew exactly what she was doing when she put together a show about women disguising themselves as men in a city that viewed women as inferior and ultimately outperforming them. The show could be a metaphor for the hip hop world and the way in which women are often forgotten and uncredited – The Lockers, for example, only became popular after Toni Basil brought her knowledge of the entertainment business to the group and they began booking lucrative TV performances. Still, whether or not the audience knows and cares about the feminist message of the show is irrelevant. ZooNation has brought hip hop theatre back to the forefront for scores of people to enjoy. Now it’s time for other companies to step up and follow suit, because the demand for electric shows like this one is high.
ZooNation’s Some Like It Hip Hop will be playing at the Peacock Theatre, London, until 9th November. For more information and to book tickets, click here.