By Sarah Paez
alexandrianews.org Theater Review

Kanysha Williams, Thomas Jones, II and Jasmine Eileen Coles sing and dance their way through the Wizard of Hip (Photo Credit: Chris Banks)

Thomas W. Jones II has always been a constant behind-the-scenes presence at MetroStage. As a playwright, lyricist, director and choreographer, he has written and directed Three Sistahs, Bessie’s Blues, and Shake Loose, to name a few, and recently directed MetroStage’s production of Anne & Emmett. He took the stage Sunday night as Afro Jo in the coming-of-age one-man-show Wizard of Hip (Or When In Doubt Slam Dunk), as writer, director, choreographer, and, finally, actor. William Knowles and the Lady Doo Wops composed and arranged the original music. Originally premiering at Studio Theatre in 1992, Wizard of Hip tells the story of "every man" Afro Jo’s journey from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.

Flanked by two dazzling back-up singers, the Lady Doo Wops (Jasmine Eileen Coles and Kanysha Williams), Jones poked fun at the show’s—and his own—age, shouting, “Old man dance break!” and calling the show, “Wizard of Hip Replacement.” Yet the joke would be on the audience, as Jones held the stage for the next two hours, dancing, singing and alternating his speech between spoken word, stand-up and soliloquy.

“What is hip?” became Jones’ slogan for the show’s duration. In pursuit of “hip,” Jones’ commentary ranged from the funny—including worshipping NBA as a religion, celebrating a degree from “Mommy University” and how to pretend-fight in the schoolyard—to the serious—fearing not making a mark on the world, the assassination of great black leaders, and the Vietnam War. Sometimes, though, his transitions were choppy and did not land. Certain references were outdated or not fully explained, signaling a possible generational divide.

Kanysha Williams, Thomas Jones, II and Jasmine Eileen Coles keep the audience entertained (Photo Credit Chris Banks)

But where the show stumbled in delivery, it made up for in energy and charm. The Lady Doo Wops provided a constant stream of vivacity, dancing and strutting across the stage, always in harmony. Their voices were distinctive, yet blended nearly as one. Their humor, sass, and chemistry together smoothed out the show into a fun, hip cultural tour.

On Sunday night, the trio moved and grooved as if 15 bodies instead of three. Jones’ self-professed old age did nothing but strengthen his appeal. His humor and grace as a storyteller guided the audience through a story that should be told more often—that of a black boy growing up in a world that doesn’t always want him. So, in the words of the Lady Doo Wops: “Raise up, step your game up,” and catch the Wizard of Hip before it struts offstage Sept. 17.

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