ZooNation takes off the brakes at The Peacock Theatre for an energetic revival of one of its biggest hits.
A musical mash up of a 1950s black and white film, a Shakespeare play and The Handmaid’s Tale might not be the most obvious choice to attract young audiences to the theatre – but from the barnstorming opening night reaction to the West End’s latest musical it now seems the indisputable choice.
Since choreographer Kate Prince founded ZooNation in 2002, a generation of theatregoers has been inspired by her imaginative dance productions. Zinging with energy the ‘Nation made its name by remixing a classic, Sondheim’s Into the Woods, to create the 2008 smash, Into the Hoods, the West End’s first hip hop dance show.
Sylvia, a funk musical based on Sylvia Pankhurst, had a more troubled time when it debuted at the Old Vic last year, but now Prince and co have revived one of their biggest successes which premiered at this very venue nearly eight years ago to the day.
Boasting a more inventive plot than many dance shows, it imagines a dystopian future where books are banned and men and women are divided from each other, with the latter very much second-class citizens. Thrown out of the city, Jo-Jo (Lizzie Gough) and Kerri (Jade Hackett) decide to re-enter by disguising themselves as men, so we’ve got an entertaining reversal of Some Like It Hot with lots of mistaken identity and cross-dressing, a la Twelfth Night.
Jo-Jo falls in love with Simeon (Tommy Franzen) who has an unquenchable passion for those banned books, but all might be in vain as the sinister city’s Governor (Christian Alozie) is intent on quashing dissent and has literally shut out the sun from lighting his gloomy metropolis.
So, we have a diverting concept upon which is layered a wall of powerful live vocals and, of course, some terrific choreography which had sections of the audience—including a fair number of Strictly Come Dancing stars—whooping with joy.
Impressive in the mixture of styles, the highlight has to be the dance battle at the end between the establishment and the rebels. The scene contained dozens of acrobatic power moves, while the synchronised shadowing showing the Governor as puppet master, manipulating the individuals in his workforce, was mesmeric.
As the Governor, Alozie has great presence and his belligerent body popping brilliantly captured the character’s inner turmoil. In contrast, Franzen (who played Simeon in the original production) is a breezy delight of spins and swipes and his high tempo courtship routine with Gough (another original member) brought the house down at the end of Act I.
With a string of breathtaking individual turns at the climax, and the audience dancing along with the cast at the end, the high feel-good factor of this show should be prescribed by the NHS to dance away those winter blues.
Some Like It Hip Hop runs at the Peacock Theatre until November 9.
Words by Jonathan Lovett.