There’s a free hip-hop set before each performance of Into the Hoods, which means that by curtain-up the young audience are already at fever pitch – you can only just hear the narrator telling them: “Make some noise.” Back in London for a third season, Kate Prince’s hit street-dance show for her company ZooNation is a canny combination of youthful style, classic songs, modern myths and old folk tales. Loosely inspired by the Sondheim musical Into the Woods, it tells the story of two fresh-faced schoolkids who get lost in the Ruff Endz housing estate. The faceless hoodies they first encounter become humanised into a cast of characters with their own dreams and dramas: DJ Spinderella, MC Rap-on-Zel, would-be loverman Prince, soul songstress Lil Red, and mix-master Jaxx. The kids learn a little about life and love, pick up some sharp moves, and earn their bus ticket home.
Kate Prince is something of a mix-master herself, sampling popular styles from b-boy acrobatics and synchronised MTV routines through funk, soul-train disco, lindy hop, even a quick waltz. The soundtrack also jumps between songs and styles, and if the overall effect can be relentlessly frenetic, it’s not gratuitous: it can summarise the welter of encounters and emotions in a street scene, or wittily portray a two-timing boyfriend failing to reconcile Chaka Khan sass with Barry White smooch.
There’s wit and warmth elsewhere too: a funk party at an old people’s home, a send-up of The Matrix, a drag queen the size of a basketball champion sporting the ultimate in white stilettos, a button-nosed tot who, rather scarily, combines the looks of Tinkerbell with the attitude of Missy Elliott. Add in some whizzy computer graphics and a dollop of old-fashioned feeling, and the audience is left making double the noise they did at the start.