“KRUNK FU BATTLE BATTLE”
EAST WEST PLAYERS DOES IT AGAIN!
You might casually stroll your way into the wonderful theater that is home to East West Players in Little Tokyo, but we guarantee you’ll be hip-hopping out of there by the time “Krunk Fu Battle Battle” ends. The audience we were part of on a normally quiet Thursday night couldn’t sit still and even the elderly Chinese couple next to us was bopping right along with the younger members of the nearly packed house.
For once, the book of a brand new musical (by Qui Nguyen) actually has a story line that makes sense, with countless musical numbers (lyrics by Beau Sia, music by Marc Macalintal, Rynan Paguio and Jason Tyler Chong) that serve to move this tale of not quite star-crossed lovers, both present-day and long-ago, forward at an amazing clip. If anyone thinks that “Dancing With The Stars” is a calorie killer, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The energy expended on this stage by every single performer is simply phenomenal and, as we discovered after the show, they can’t seem to stop dancing, even after the music has stopped. (Someone needs to build a reality show around the brilliant choreographer, Jason Tyler Chong. What an imagination he must have!)
Very “normal” teenager Norman (Lawrence Kau) and his hard-working, college-educated mother, Jean (former Broadway “Miss Saigon”, Joan Almedilla) have been forced to leave their comfy surroundings in New England and return to Jean’s home town of Brooklyn, due to financial problems. Yes, this obviously takes place during the recession, when finding a decent job has become next to impossible for a smart, 40ish single mom.
Jean has found her old high school pal, now known around the ‘hood as Sir Master Cert (don’t ask – Blas Lorenzo explains his character’s name half-way through the show) and asked him to help her move into a rundown apartment with Norman.
Shortly after moving in, Norman meets a goofy, incredible hip-hopper named Wingnut (Matt Tayan) and his younger brother, Junior (Evan Moua). The three guys become a “crew” of hip-hoppers in order to do dance battle with the meanie, Three Point (Leng Phe), and his own crew (Troy Tershita and Cesar Cipriano). The winners get to control the blacktop where they hang out; the losers will be banished for life from the area.
Enter The Girl, Cindy (Liza B. Domingo), who is already claimed by Three Point. Naturally, as in all good love triangles, Cindy is immediately drawn to Norman and he to her. Cindy’s weird, blue-haired pal, Moe (Megumi Tatsumikawa) is not what she appears to be at first and throws several curve balls into the proceedings.
We all know how this is going to end: happily ever after for one and all. The dancing virtually never stops and is well worth the price of admission. Most, not all, of the performers seem to be dancers first, singers second and actors third, but that does not mean that anyone is weak in any of those areas. Joan Almedilla has a singing voice that soars to the rafters and she has a chance to show it off in several numbers, the most memorable of which is a bluesy ballad, “Broken”, that might easily become a standard.
It is next to impossible to take ones eyes of Matt Tayan. Under the goofiness is a handsome guy with a great body, which he uses in phenomenal ways as he hip-hops around the stage. This is an actor whose career we will be following.
Perhaps the most accomplished of the younger actors is Lawrence Kau. While his singing is passable, his initially weak dancing becomes increasingly professional as the show progresses (as it should, since his character is a rank amateur at the start of the play), but it is his acting that stands out. His every mood change is natural and believable, and he is utterly likable as the underdog who eventually wins the girl. (No – that isn’t giving anything away. This isn’t “West Side Story”, after all.)
It is comedic actor Blas Lorenzo who keeps the show moving along, in more ways than one. Host, narrator, hip-hopper, master of accents – he does it all and has the audience in the palm of his hands throughout the evening. This is an Equity show, so ticket prices are not exactly cheap. But considering the number of exceptional performers on that stage, all of whom are being paid (unlike at the vast majority of smaller theaters in town), this is a bargain. If you need a pick-me-up, hip-hop down to East West Players, then walk over to one of the funky little Japanese restaurants around the corner. You will definitely be in the mood for sushi or a bento box and you can gloat about the possibility that you were among the first to catch the World Premiere of “Krunk Fu Battle Battle”.
East West Players tickets: (213) 625-7000 or www.EastWestPlayers.org Show is currently scheduled to close June 26, 2011
– K. Malone