An old-school fairy godmother might float serenely to a protege’s rescue, waving a magic wand. Not so for the supernatural fixer of “Cinderella: The Remix,” the clever children’s musical now at Imagination Stage. Hoperah, as this enchantress is named, bounds boisterously into action, armed with a glittery TV talk-show mike. Then she vaunts her own prowess in a brash rap sequence: “I can do anything I please,” she raps. “And everything I do generates large fees.”
The reference to a certain real-world talk-show-guru-turned-media-mogul is just one of the sly jokes playwright and director Psalmayene 24 has woven into this show, the third installment in the Hip-Hop Children’s Trilogy he created with composer Nick Hernandez. Audiences who have seen the previous two entries in the cycle — “Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth” and “P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical” — will be prepared for this production’s wit, including the breezy contemporary references exemplified by the Hoperah character (zestfully channeled by actress Giselle LeBleu Gant).
What’s new in this segment of the trilogy is the welcome theme of girl power. Overhauling the classic glass slipper plotline, Psalmayene 24 creates an active and creative Cinderella (Paige Hernandez), who aspires to be a DJ even though, in Hip-Hop Hollywood, where she lives, only men are allowed to take on that job. Further obstructing Cinderella’s career outlook is her mean stepmother, Bad Ma’amajama (Gant), who wants her own son, Chocolate Ice (Mark Hairston) to be a hip-hop star. With Hoperah’s help, Cinderella gets a chance to DJ for the music celebrity J Prince (Baye Harrell) but the magic turntables she’s using will break down at midnight. After that, Cinderella and her critter sidekick Chin Chilla (Katy Carkuff) will have to rely on their own ingenuity, courage and talent as they pursue their dreams.
Giving Cinderella’s world an apt tone of hyperactive modernity is Ethan Sinnott’s set, which juxtaposes video screens and, at one point, pop art portraits of J Prince, with the lights and concrete surfaces of a sprawling city. The video screens relay images related to the narrative: at one point, a mob of hip-hop fans; at another, the goofily sinister visage of Mo’ Money (a very funny Jacob Yeh), a record label poobah. (Tewodross Melchishua is the show’s projection designer. Kendra Rai contributes the exuberant urban-cool costumes.) When the story follows Cinderella down to her basement room, milk crates packed with records underscore her artistic passion.
Hernandez’s Cinderella is a likable, energetic but vulnerable heroine. (The actress also devised the show’s breakdancing-flavored choreography, which is a good match for the catchy hip-hop beats Hernandez created.) Other notable performances include Harrell’s vainglorious J Prince; Gant’s amusingly imperious Bad Ma’amajama; and Carkuff’s eager, sweetly dorky Chin Chilla.
Imagination Stage is targeting “Cinderella: The Remix” at ages 5 to 10. But older theatergoers will appreciate the production’s ebullient allusiveness. Early on in the story, for instance, Bad Ma’amajama describes the dire punishment Hip-Hop Hollywood’s judicial system metes out to those caught “frontin’ ” (showing off inauthentically): The culprit gets a year in prison in solitary confinement — with the music of Kenny G on a constant loop.
Wren is a freelance writer.
Written and directed by Psalmayene 24; lighting design, Zachary Gilbert; sound design, Christopher Baine; assistant director, Matt Omasta. Recommended as best for ages 5-10. About 90 minutes. Tickets: $10-30. Through May 25 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Call 301-280-1660 or visit www.imaginationstage.org.