I was excited to hear that last year’s popular show Into the Hoods had been revived at the Southbank Centre for a Christmastime run. Last year, with the TTT’s enthusiastic review and Clement Crisp‘s strange passion for hip hop encouraging me, I tried to get some tickets rather way too far toward the end of the run, and was ultimately unsuccessful. Then I almost totally screwed myself out of going to see this despite knowing about it a month before it opened as, to my shock, even THREE WEEKS before the end of the run, the it was nearly sold out. WTF! Was there something going on I didn’t know about? There weren’t any sales or discounted tickets as far as I knew, it was just selling like hotcakes!
As it turns out, of COURSE I was about a decade behind the times, or maybe two: the house was PACKED, and not with my usual crowd of gray hairs or the National’s oppressive smother of bourgies, but with kids, KIDS, kids! Kids in their early twenties, in their teens and tweens, and even a few of the under ten set (one of whom was dancing on the stage to the pre-show DJ in the bar). I couldn’t believe how busy it was! And when we went into the hall for the show (start time 7:45, run time estimated at 80 minutes), and the lights went down, and the announcer said, “We wanna hear you enjoying yourselves!” damned if they didn’t roar.
And they roared and they roared all night. Me, I found it all way more amateurish than I expected. The dancers seemed like “fans” rather than pros and struggled to do unison movement; the cheesy animated background spoke of lack of budget; and, despite having several characters who were supposed to sing, every sound that came over the loudspeaker was prerecorded. And I’d been hoping for some kind of clever joke on the whole Sondheim thing, but it was nowhere to be found. Honestly, even the whole fairy tale trope wasn’t done very thoroughly. We had characters with names like those in fairy tales – “Rap”unzel, Spinderella, Red Riding Hood — but the stories were really thin. I also didn’t like the overarching story of the two kids who have to, as it turns out, steal something from each of the four main characters in order to complete some poorly defined quest. First it was an incredibly negative concept; and then, when they find them, nothing happens!
Buuuut …. well, let’s judge it on its own merits. This was basically trying to be a low budget entertainment in which a bunch of dance was presented with a bit of a story gloss, and the fairy tale was enough to hold it together. Red and her boyfriend Jack had good chemistry happening, and I really felt it when she was stolen away from him by the “wolf.” And while I didn’t think the fairy tales made sense, I really grooved on the idea of all of these people living in this same shitty place really having big dreams about their lives. They were doubtlessly very different dreams than those that the kids of, say, the National’s audience would have, but they were good dreams and I wanted to see them achieve them, so I rallied behind the characters and wondered what the dreams of people who actually lived in housing projects are like.
And the dance. Well, while it was not as tight as I would like to have seen it, it was often inventive and fun. My favorite scene was in the old folks home, where granny and gramps suddenly cast away their walkers and their wheelchairs and started getting jiggy (the guy who played Jack really stood out in this scene). I was also pleased to see the company was solidly half female, and, in fact, most of the “star” roles were women. And the choreography/staging also demonstrated that you can do stuff on the cheap and really make it work, as in the scene in which Jack and “The Giant” do a slo-mo, Matrix like fight for Jack’s Ipod, all while they’re being carried by other cast members to simulate walking in the air (etc.), then repeat it in ultra-slow motion to show the silly things they were doing during the fast bit (like answering a cell phone). I loved the cleverness and I liked the dance, and, hey, Spinderella moved like a freaking dream. Who was that girl with one shoe off and one shoe on? I spent the evening waiting for her to get solos so that I could admire her effortless, polished movement, and I still don’t know her name.
So while this show didn’t really do what I expected it to, I still enjoyed it, and at 80 minutes without interval it was the perfect, gentle entry back into theater in the week after New Year’s. Such a pity it’s closing so soon; based on how enthusiastic the audience was, there should be a performance like this every week.
*Teenaged Theatre Critic, or as he is now known, the Tyro Theatre Critic.
(Into the Hoods continues through Sunday, January 10th, 2010. This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010.)