Poppin’ and Lockdown, Factory Theater, at Angel Island. The mid-80s musicals about break dancing–that spinning-on-your-head electric boogie thang that birthed hip-hop–have practically disappeared. I had no luck at several video stores and libraries asking for Beat Street, Breakin’, or Krush Groove. Yet there is hope for fans: playwrights Mike Meredith and Kirk Pynchon have managed to cram all those bad mamma jammas into this wicked fresh parody. Set in a black box covered in neon graffiti, with DJ Boogie Down Bronx (Brian Jackson) spinnin’ and scratchin’ in the corner, the show’s got it all: rival gangs, star-crossed love, a murder frame-up, and a final dance-off that will launch the winners to stardom.
Parody is deceptively hard, but Meredith, Pynchon, and director Steve Walker clearly get it. They surprise us with long-lost references (“We’re gonna be Joe Piscopo huge!”) and know when to go broad, as they do with ancillary characters like Chesty McBooby (Katherine Ripley) and Lou Jewison (Noah Simon), president of “the leading entertainment management of break and break-related dancing.” They also know when to keep it real–Walker and the performers understand that comedy fails when the actor seems in on the joke. Great example: even after being “compromised” in prison, hero Turbo (Danny Belrose) refuses to give up his Mickey Rooney-like enthusiasm (“Break dancing can save the world!”). And the dancing? No physics-defying moves, but respectable.