JabbaWockeez MUS.I.C. at the Monte Carlo Las Vegas: A behind-the-mask expose
The original "America's Best Dance Crew" winners fill the void left by illusionist Lance Burton with their own brand of stage magic. They've described their show as "the audio-visual story of inspiration brought to life through the harmonization of sound and movement."
Besides the massive, bright signage all over the Monte Carlo, it's easy to see that this is Wockeez Land from the wealth of merchandise to be had. T-shirts, caps and of course those somewhat unsettling, expressionless white masks are available to all. While browsing through the accessories, we hear a young fan wearing a mask say that he's going to be one of the Wockeez when he grows up.
For the uninitiated, the JabbaWockeez is a freestyle/hip-hop dance crew that mixes locking, popping, house, b-boy moves and anything else that inspires them from martial arts to Gene Kelly.
The Vegas production is a labor of reality show crossover love. "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographers Napoleon and Tabitha D'umo direct the show, and the costuming team is led by former "Project Runway" contestant Kara Saun.
We meet up with the Wockeez before their grand opening, and it's clear they're excited to speak to the press about their craft. They're artists after all, and for them, everything is about expression and sharing.
Here are the seven crew members -- Phil "Swaggerboy" Tayag, Kevin "KB" Brewer, and Joe "Emajoenation" Larot, Rynan "Kid Rainen" Paguio, Chris "Cristyle" Gatdula, Ben "B-Tek" Chung and Phi Nguyen -- granting an interview. They discuss their go-to foods to keep their energy up, the meaning behind the title of the show "MUS.I.C" and their awe about performing in Vegas.
We then traipse backstage and see the racks and racks of clothes. This is the first hint we get of the massive amounts of clothing changes we'll expect in the stage show.
The Wockeez take a moment to pose with the press.
The following night, we arrive early, sitting in the front row. Before the show begins, we see a be-Wockeed warm-up guy who encourages audience participation and gets the crowd laughing before he jumps on stage to join his comrades. Oh, he wasn't just the warm-up guy. At this point we're reminded that there's no recording devices allowed, so we only have this one image:
The stage show is difficult to describe because it is such a vibrant, frenetic and multi-genre extravaganza of visuals, sound and movement. Musically, the show includes original songs from producers The Bangerz ("the JabbaWockeez of music"), classics like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," lots of familiar '80s hits and contemporary hits like OneRepublic's "Apologize."
The show is broken up into vignettes that ease the audience into the dance using humor and storytelling. There's plenty of audience interaction as well, and at one point they bring Tabitha to stage in a purely gratuitous but crowd-pleasing cameo. The audience eats it up. Once the the show is well underway, somehow the movements become even more intense. We see more battling, more exhausting solos, bigger and more astounding set pieces. Here's a taste:
As an audience, we're alternately wrung out and jazzed up from the show. Since it's the grand opening, sweets and drinks are being served up at the Ignite Lounge afterward. Zap2it and Fanbolt sneak onto the red carpet when nobody's looking, and get a taste of what they Wockeez will be enjoying once they've done their penultimate costume change for the evening.
JabbaWockeez MUS.I.C. isn't just for hip-hop dance fans. Their vision and passion for creating drama, humor, joy and awe speak through their movements. They perform five days a week, and tickets can be bought at MonteCarlo.com.
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Photo credits: JBWKZ, Zap2it