Krunk Fu Battle Battle is so ridiculous that strobe lights go off and actors begin seizing whenever the title is uttered. The Pomona College Theatre Department musical, directed by Pomona professor Joyce Lu, is a smorgasbord of cheese, pop, breakdancing, and racial stereotypes.
The audience is introduced to the show with a cast dance number and rap from the lofted DJ Shiwa (Siwaraya Rochanahusdin PZ ’15), who provides the backtrack for the whole show. The plot follows protagonist Norman Lee, played by Champy Lo PZ ’14, who moves from Hong Kong to Sunset Park in Brooklyn with his mother, Jean Lee, played by Iris Liu CM ’16.
After making friends with wannabe rapper Wingnut (Brendan Gillet PO ’14), Norman quickly gets into trouble as he challenges the school’s top b-boy, 3 Point, to a Krunk Fu Battle Battle. Stakes are high, and if Norman loses, he will be exiled from the school. It doesn’t help that he also falls for 3 Point’s girl Sweet Cindy Chang, played by Kayla Dalsfoist SC ’13, and doesn’t know any dance moves apart from the running man.
Norman enlists the help of Lloyd, an ex-b-boy and old friend of Jean who has a heavy Chinese accent and a penchant for 1980s tracksuits. Lloyd, played by Harvey Mudd College breakdancing teacher Ken Saw, provides comedic relief and spawns multiple dancing montages as he attempts to teach the boys how to dance. Junior, Wingnut’s cousin and 12-year-old genius, played by King-Edqux Robinson PO ’15, is also roped into Norman’s dance crew for his slick moves.
In the meantime, Norman’s college-educated mother cannot find a suitable position to support her family and struggles with three jobs in entry-level positions. She also reflects on her past when she was the Sweet Cindy Chang of the 1980s and lost her heart to a b-boy.
Norman and Cindy grow closer, and he asks her to homecoming, which is naturally the day after the dance battle. Tensions rise as 3 Point, played by professional dancer Ben Hong, finds out about their relationship and sends his thugs Hype and L.A. (a.k.a. Lethal Assassin) to beat up Norman. The epic dance battle ensues, surprise characters help out our hero, and there is a happy ending.
Located in Pomona’s Allen Theatre, the black box walls are plastered in graffiti and signs that create an urban atmosphere while a chain fence covering the catwalk adds an ominous touch to hidden activity from the 3 Point crew. The space allows for a lot of freedom: Actors can play to three different perspectives of the audience, and dances by choreographer d. Sabela grimes are full of dynamic movement. The play’s multiple montage scenes display impressive dancing alongside the city atmosphere, yet toward the end of the show they begin to lag and seem excessive.
The Krunk Fu plot is predictable, but this production embraces the corny script.
“This play is certainly ridiculous, but there are also some serious messages embedded within both the way we have chosen to present the story as well as in the story itself,” Lu wrote in the program.
The script, however, limits the show’s credibility. The text creates many awkward moments with an uneven flow and many racial comments. There is a pause for laughter after Wingnut, played by a Caucasian actor, introduces the African-American character Junior as his cousin. Cindy Chang, an empowered poet who preaches female independence and Asian pride, shows little strength as men define her life. Also, one of the biggest comedic reveals of the show is that Lloyd fakes his heavy Chinese accent to attract Jean. The frequency of these uncomfortable moments makes it difficult to look at the show in a positive light.
One-third of the cast is made up of professional dancers who do not attend the 5Cs. This choice for limiting the amount of student participation in the show is questionable, but the guest performers were able to blend in with the student cast and absolutely wow the audience in the final dance battle.
Although dancing is the primary focus of this show, the actors succeed in singing the pop- and rap-based score. Dalsfoist has a beautiful pop soprano sound that fits her character’s sweetness, and Lo proves his vocal range and ability to sing a fluid falsetto. The songs are not particularly well written, but the cast executes them well.
Krunk Fu Battle Battle is playing at the Pomona College Allen Theatre from April 11 to 14, with 8 p.m. showings Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. matinées Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are sold out; however, you can be placed on a waitlist with the Seaver Box Office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (909) 607-4375.