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Review: ‘How I Got On’ at Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia, PA

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“You breathe in joy, you blow out joy” are the words that truly represent the breath of fresh air that Azuka Theatre’s How We Got On brought to their audience during their opening night this past Sunday. The show follows the journey of three suburban teens trying to make it big in the rap world of 1988, with a high energy DJ who is spinning their tale.

Jerrik Medrano and James Whitfield. Photo by Photo by Johanna Austin.

Jerrik Medrano and James Whitfield. Photo by Photo by Johanna Austin.

Written by Idris Goodwin, How We Got On premiered at the Humana Festival in 2012, and is making its Philadelphia premiere with this production. The show is what Azuka calls a “New Professionals Production,” featuring a cast and production team of college students and recent graduates who are also making their professional debuts.

The production is a fast train with lots of moving parts being powered by its electric ensemble of four young actors. Jerrick Medrano plays Hank, a spunky teen raised in the suburbs with a conservative father who wishes he would focus more on his academics than his rap dreams. Medrano made the audience howl with laughter with his impeccable comedic timing and unrelenting energy. His fresh and youthful take on Hank kept us rooting for him to succeed.

Hank’s partner-in-crime is silky smooth Julian, played by James Whitfield, who thinks his performance skills can take Hank’s beats straight to the top. Whitfield’s physical comedy was incredibly endearing, and his ability to “spit rhymes” particularly shone during the fun group rap numbers. Whitfield broke hearts with his struggle with his unsupportive father.

Rounding out the trio of teens was Luann, played by Kishia Nixon, the privileged cheerleader who thinks girls can rap just as well as boys can. Nixon proved this by turning her character – from a sweetheart dancing with her teddy bear in her bedroom – to a star on the stage with her cohorts.

Leading this team, and the audience through the story was the Selector who was played by Zoe Richards. Richards was a force to be reckoned with in this company, her charisma immediately hooked me. She transformed her lines into pure poetry as she created the word of 1988 around us through style and fun facts about the rap community. Richards was also a chameleon, slipping from our narrator into the father characters and other various adults in the story perfectly seamlessly through wonderful vocal and physical work.

When I walked into the intimate space at The Drake I felt like I had been transported straight into an 80’s music video. The lights were spectacular at helping to tell the story. Lighting Designer Michael Lambui used beautiful jewel tones that mimicked the colorful energy of the show perfectly.

The costumes, designed by Shelby Kay, complemented these well by keeping the characters in styles that were excellent at conveying the 1988 vibe, with great attention to detail from Hank’s fun glasses to Luann’s adorable knee socks. Another aspect that took wonderful detail into account were the props design of the show by Pilar Bruyere. The various locations around the small stage were decked out their 80’s best from giant boomboxes to spin decks.

Zoe Richard. Photo by Johanna Austin.

Zoe Richards. Photo by Johanna Austin.

The true star of the show was Lucas Fendlay’s sound design. In a show all about music sound is incredibly important, and no expense was spared. From cool echo effects with our DJ to mixing lines from the characters into a rap itself, the sound helped turn the production from a play into a party for the audience.

The set by Sara Outing’s included a large DJ booth in the center of the stage that I wish they would have used more. However, there were lovely finishing touches such as chalk scratches on the ground and records painted on the walls.

Raelle Myrick-Hodges’ direction is so innovative. The show is almost a dance, choreographed to flow perfectly from scene to scene. The tennis court style of the theater allows all important moments to be seen by both sides of the audience. Myrick-Hodges and her exceptional ensemble create an intimate world.

How We Got On is a delight! It feels new and fresh, and is a wonderful way for Azuka Theatre to kick off their season. So brush up on your “Rapper’s Delight” lyrics and head on over to The Drake for a lively evening!

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

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How We Got On plays through October 9, 2016, at Azuka Theatre performing at The Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake – 302 South Hicks Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.

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