Encore Michigan

‘Kool Kat: Hip-Hop Panto’ at Theatre Nova rocks the holiday

Review December 09, 2019 Kym Reinstadler

ANN ARBOR – Theatre Nova dishes up a super soulful Santa decked out in red velvet with zebra stripe trim to introduce its latest original holiday show, DJ Whittington’s Kool Kat: A Hip-Hop Panto.

This delightful 90-minute show by Carla Milarch, founding artistic director of Theatre Nova, and R. Mackenzie Lewis of Eastern Michigan University’s School of Theatre Arts, serves up – in true panto fashion — outrageous surprises and laugh after laugh. It also provides a nice message about the meaning of Kwanza.

Some families with young children attended the performance I saw, and all the children were enraptured by the show, enthusiastically booing and hissing when the villain came on stage. Occasionally there is a pause in the action while the actors hand out candy to the kids, but the show is sweet enough to keep their attention all by itself.

The script is adapted from the English folktale Dick Whittington and his Cat, which is loosely based on the life of Richard Whittington, a poor boy with no prospects who went to London in medieval times and became a four-time Lord Mayor.

According to one version of the folktale, Dick Whittington’s fortune changed when he befriended a stray cat, who turned out to be an excellent mouser. Whittington rented the cat to rat-infested communities and he became wealthy.

In Milarch and Lewis’s script, waif-like Dick Jr. Whittington (Asia Marie Hicks) takes a job as a DJ (well, that’s what his friends call him) with the FitzHitz Recording Studio because the job comes with a room in the label’s mansion. FitzHitz– on the verge of a succession in management  — is eager to discover bright new talent. (The label’s brightest star is Dirty D, who’s a rat – literally.)

DJ finds the mansion is rodent infested, has many sleepless nights, and is about to give up and return to his parents’ home in the country when he is befriended by an affectionate un-owned feline with a Cockney accent named Kat (Alaina Kerr).

This cat is no shabby tabby. She’s also an excellent mouser, but she never pounces, claws or bites. She repels rodents with her beautiful singing. And, wow, can this Kool Kat sing!

Many of the songs in this show are catchy originals (“I Ain’t No Sit-in-the-Back Girl”). Others are clever adaptations of popular songs, like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

The glue in this rollicking three-person production is Mike Sandusky, who plays Super Soulful Santa, Dirty D, the FitzHitz founder, and the mansion’s saucy chef Dame Divinity Ambrosia, who assaults with vegetables and calls children “mischievous Mississippi mudpies.”

Sandusky goes through so many brisk costume changes that – in the final minutes of the performance I saw – he burst onstage with a serious, as in very funny, wardrobe malfunctions.

Even if one can predict the ending, getting there is just so much fun.  This over-the-top show is a crowd-pleaser and one you can’t see anywhere else. The music is great. The cast is excellent and Kerr certainly has talent in spades and could become a major star.

There is some bawdy humor in the show, but it’s likely to go right over the heads of pre-teens in the audience.

Don’t miss it.

Week of 8/10/2020

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