Theater review: 'Krunk Fu Battle Battle' at East West Players
Wax on, wax off: A b-boy needs his tightest moves to win the girl in “Krunk Fu Battle Battle,” the high-energy hip-hop musical now receiving its world premiere at East West Players. Short on originality but charged with exuberance, this mash-up of “The Karate Kid” and “Step Up” works best as a delivery system for kinetic eye candy.
Qui Nguyen’s book is narrated by Sir Master Cert (Blas Lorenzo), an original b-boy (breakdancer) who pretended to be Fresh Off the Boat after crushing on Brooklyn home girl Jean (Joan Almedilla), who worked after school in an immigration center.
Years later, a struggling Jean returns to the hood with her preppy teenage son, Norman (Lawrence Kao). His polo shirt clashing with the tough streets of Sunset Park, Norman gets an urban makeover from Wingnut (the fluid Matt Tayao) and promptly falls for slam poet Cindy Chang (Liza B. Domingo). But Cindy belongs to the legendary krunk (street dance) king Three-Point (Leng Phe), so Norman will have to win her in a dance-off. It’s up to Sir Master Cert — by way of choreographer Jason Tyler Chong -- to teach Norman and crew his sick spins, coin drops and windmills.
Under Tim Dang’s brisk direction, the cast winningly commits to this after-school special material, with Lorenzo’s charm (and mad hip-hop skills) setting the tone. Never mind that the expressive but oddly static songs by Beau Sia and Marc Macalintal can’t approach the sheer dynamism of the show’s dance music (supplied by Chong and Rynan Paguio, and DJ'd on stage by Gingee). It’s all about the moves, and the cast moonwalks, slide-glides and pops with exhilaration.
Norman and Cindy are meant to be together, but can the same be said of hip-hop and traditional theater? It’s almost always an awkward date: sudden gesture versus slow, narrative build. “Krunk Fu” doesn’t offer any new solutions for this odd couple, but what the show lacks in overall form, it makes up with sporadic fireworks.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“Krunk Fu Battle Battle” David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 26. $40-$50. Contact: (213) 625-7000 or www.EastWestPlayers.org Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Photo: Matt Tayao, (left to right, in foreground) Evan Moua, Blas Lorenzo, Cesar Cipriano and Lawrence Kao, with additional cast in the background. Credit: Michael Lamont.