Jabbawockeez showing another side in new show ‘Prism’

“Nonsense”? Nonsense.

Order somehow emerges when you take B-boys, street dance, hip-hop, mime, physical comedy, acrobatics, masks and white gloves and stir them all together into this thing called the Jabbawockeez.

Still, if you are Napoleon D’umo, and you and your spouse, Tabitha, are in charge of making sense of it all, you can see how the temptation to name the new show “Nonsense” emerged.

“Here’s what really you guys are. It’s this stream of consciousness,” D’umo remembers telling the hip-hop dance collective, which parlayed its breakout exposure on the TV competition “America’s Best Dance Crew” into a hit show on the Strip.

“It goes in your brain, comes out, we talk about it. … Each individual idea is amazing, amazing, amazing. But it makes no sense together,” he told them.

So “Nonsense” it almost was for the new show in a new, custom theater at Luxor, which opens for ticketed previews Saturday (with the formal grand opening May 31).

But the funny thing was, no one was really ready to settle for that working title.

“We wanted to bring a different element to the Jabbawockeez that people hadn’t seen yet,” says founding member Kevin Brewer. As directors of their previous ventures, the D’umos “really opened up our eyes, helped us understand what we can do.”

In creating a new show to follow two years of “MUS.I.C.” at Monte Carlo, “We definitely wanted to tell a story, show another side of the Jabbawockeez, not just one color.”

Color. That was it!

D’umo says he somehow connected the seven colors of the light spectrum to the seven dancers in the Jabbawockeez. Suddenly he had a new title in the middle of a business flight, and couldn’t wait for the plane to land so he could share it.

“Prism.”

It’s “the perfect name,” he says, because there are “seven different colors, and without them it’s black. And with them, it’s this bright light. If you really look deep into a prism and break down each color, it’s beautiful.

“And that’s what they are,” Tabitha D’umo adds.

“Light is an amazing theme in our life,” Brewer agrees.

From there, sense — and a story — emerged.

“Whether people understand it or not doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s entertaining and drives us,” Napoleon D’umo says.

The biggest change fans will pick up on in the new show is that the Jabbawockeez are now color-coded, each assigned his own piece of the spectrum.

Does that fly in the face of the crew’s original inspiration? That masks and uniform dress would make the audience look at the geometry of the whole rather than each part?

The masks have become the group’s signature, its “secret sauce,” Brewer says. “I actually kind of feel like I transform” when he puts it on.

But a little color doesn’t change all that.

“It’s not like we’re deciding to take on our own personalities or our own identities,” dancer Ben Chung says. “It’s just kind of to show what happens when something’s broken up, how does it ultimately come back together.

“In this one, we break up into different colors of the spectrum. Ultimately, we become unified again in the end. There’s still the concept of unity that we’re very much putting out there.”

The Jabbawockeez have been the rare ticketed show to draw the younger Las Vegas demographic that otherwise drops most of its Vegas cash in the nightclubs. No wonder MGM Resorts executives fast-tracked the crew from a few dates at the MGM Grand in 2010 to replacing Lance Burton’s long-running show at the Monte Carlo just five months later.

When the Blue Man Group ended up at the Monte Carlo, the Jabbawockeez signed a six-year commitment to build out the site of a bygone motion-simulator ride on Luxor’s second floor.

The new theater seats 830, but in a steep auditorium rake with a low ceiling that makes the venue seem cozy, with the first dozen rows or so almost on top of the bouncy-house action.

“Sometimes when you watch dance from so far back you’re unable to appreciate the energy that they’re putting out. The closer you are the better it feels,” Napoleon says.

Tabitha adds, “Hopefully in this theater it will become more contagious and the audience will feel more involved.”

They won’t have any other choice when it comes time to get up and do the Harlem Shake, one of many nods to pop culture in the new show.

Without verbal punch lines, the Jabbawockeez continue to rely on sound snippets from movies and music to supply many of the laughs. But Brewer says the goal this time was to “score” the show with sections of “theatrical-type music, where we really want to push the story along, with more acting instead of the straight-up dancing.”

Napoleon D’umo says the troupe so eagerly absorbs all influences that a Motown section grew to 20 minutes before they realized they had added too many old-school songs and had to cut back.

All concerned agree the Jabbawockeez have grown up — but not grown old.

Some of the dancers have kids of their own now, yet at the end of a rehearsal, Tabitha D’umo sends them home with the reminder, “Get to bed early, children, and get some rest.”

“I think our role is definitely parentlike in the sense that we’re the ones in the room that put our hand on the table and go, ‘We’re deciding on this,’ ” she says later. “Because with seven guys in the room, it’s hard to settle on one idea because there are so many good ones.”

Since the masks have become their signature, the Jabbawockeez have the ability to clone themselves in the manner of the Blue Man Group. But so far, that practice is limited, as long as one is still able to spin on one’s head.

Even in their 30s, the dancers still get carded at bars, Chung says.

“That’s what dancers kind of get a lot,” he says. “Among dancers it’s like a common joke where we say dancing is a fountain of youth.”

Brewer says, “I’m not ready to fully give it up yet. I want to do this till my bones grind down. But I’m training up a worthy heir. My son, he’s 5, and he’s doing it.

“His mom, she’s not a Jabbawockee and neither is his sister. But he and I, we’re Jabbawockeez.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at
mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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