BWW Reviews: Creativity is Front and Center in Imagination Stage's CINDERELLA: THE REMIX
Imagination Stage is once again playing host to the work of the enormously creative Psalmayene 24 with Cinderella: The Remix. His two other successful hip-hop theatre pieces, Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth and P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical achieved a great blend of pushing the boundaries of traditional children's theatre while still presenting an entertaining 'learning lesson' that both children and their parents can appreciate. The innovative playwright and director's take on the classic fairytale Cinderella is no different. While our young heroine may not end up wearing a sparkly ball gown and get 'saved' by Prince Charming, she does persevere against enormous odds and show off her inner strength and goodness in a way that can make a wonderful impact on young girls.
When we first meet Cinderella (the endearing Paige Hernandez) she's mixing creative beats in her stepmom Bad Ma'majama's (the charismatic Giselle LeBleu Gant) basement as an assistant to her favored stepbrother Chocolate Ice (Mark Hairston). An opportunity arises for a new DJ to mix for the successful rap artist J Prince (the superbly confident Baye Harell). Although Cinderella wants desperately to show off her talent, she can't audition because it's not acceptable for girls to be DJs in Hip-Hop Hollywood. Pretending to be someone she's not ("fronting") could get her stuck in solitary confinement listening to Kenny G. for hours on end. Her agoraphobic bestie, Chin Chilla (the charming Katy Carkuff), urges her to risk it all like the civil rights leaders of the past and disguise herself as a boy, give herself an alias ("DJ Sincere"), and go to the audition.
When Chocolate Ice - predictably - blows his audition, J Prince recognizes "DJ Sincere's" talent and hires "him" to mix at his jam session. With a little help from a Fairy Godmother, Hoperah (also Giselle LeBleu Gant), she receives the clothes and equipment she needs to make a splash at the party with Chin Chilla by her side. The gifts, however, come a few stipulations. Much like in the traditional fairytale, Cinderella has to leave the jam before the stroke of midnight or she will be recognized as someone who does not belong. The question is whether Cinderella, post-jam, can change not only her fate, but that of all girls who are faced with obstacles in achieving their dreams due to gender inequality.
In the end, Cinderella makes clear - both in word and deed - that she's in no need of an adorable prince to save her. She proves to herself and everyone that she has the wherewithal and self-confidence to stand on her own two feet, be proud of who she is, write her own story, and take on the world head on. I, for one, really like that message.
Psalmayene 24 cleverly immerses Cinderella, her family, and those friends she meets along the way into the hip-hop culture world - a world that still is pretty much male dominated in our society. It's true the focus on this sub-culture may not result in universal audience appeal. Let's just say there's a few jokes about Kanye West and other notables in that music genre that might not go over with some audience members who don't listen to that kind of music, read TMZ, or watch Access Hollywood. Yet the setting does provide a very good starting point to explore the lessons that Cinderella learns in a way that is creative and less than expected. Even if one is not immersed in that particular subculture, it's still possible to appreciate Cinderella's plight and be drawn into the world of beats that complement not only the spoken word, but movement/dance (choreographed by Paige Hernandez).
The script is set apart from a lot of what you'll find in lesser children's theatre in that there's something in it for everyone - the young and not-so-young. As Hernandez, for example, closes the show with a rap about girl power (composed by Nick Hernandez), the adults in the audience can admire her precision and the power of the words, but the youngest in the crowd can also likely grasp the statement she's making. Psalmayene 24 adeptly walks the tightrope and gives us a story that's neither cloying/sappy nor something that will make the kids in the audience restless.
As good as the script is, the tight ensemble cast is a fundamental reason this show is one to take in. True, each of the actors have been given some pretty outlandish characters to play - while colorfully dressed in Kendra Rai's hip-hop fashion-inspired costumes - which can make it fun for both them and the audience to go along on the ride. Still, it is their infectious energy, heart, and the way they work together as a unit that make the experience an even greater one.
Strong production values like Ethan Sinnott's colorful and urban set, Tewodross "Teo" Melchishua's projections (look for a comedic, ingenious cameo appearance from Jacob Yeh as a music mogul here), and Zachary Gilbert and Christopher Baine's light and sound designs, respectively, only up the creative ante. Yet, the story and the message it offers is still very much the focus.
All in all, it's educational and fun and you can't ask for much more than that.
Running Time: 85 minutes, including an intermission.
Cinderella: The Remix plays at Imagination Stage - 4908 Auburn Avenue in Bethesda, MD - through May 25, 2014. For tickets, call the box office at 301-280-1660 or purchase them online.
Photo Credit: Margot Schulman (Paige Hernandez as "Cinderella" pictured).