P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical at Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage presents P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical, where the beloved classic Pinocchio is re-imagined for a newer, tech-savvy generation. Powerhouse talent Psalmayene 24 boasts the titles of playwright, director, and performer (as P.Nokio himself!) in this energetic visual feast that children and parents will both love.

The P.NOKIO Company: From top left: Paige Hernandez, Psalmayene 24, James Johnson, Katy Carkuff, and Jacob Yeh. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Scenic Designer Ethan Sinnott overlaps large, blocky arrows, each blazing a different color, to transform the stage into a 3-D video game. Lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin uses flashy, vivid neon shades to add to the arcade-like atmosphere, while Composer and Sound Designer Nick Hernandez blasts the usual buzzes and beeps one usually hears while playing a video game. The overall effect is a thrilling life-sized virtual reality that one can literally walk into. Costume Designer Kendra Rai dresses the actors in typical Hip-Hip treads, including bold hoodies, bejeweled caps, bright sunglasses, and printed sneakers. The most elaborate and attention-grabbing costume is that of the Graffiti Fairy: if her large glittery wings or sparkly tutu don’t blind you, then her metallic gold pants will.

In the land of Hip-Hopia, G. Petto (James J. Johnson), is a lonesome video game designer whose new character magically comes to life thanks to the kindness of the Graffiti Fairy (a very entertaining, spray-paint wielding Paige Hernandez). P.Nokio explores his new home, using quick robotic movements (perfectly executed by Psalmayene 24) and speaking in a slightly high, warbled voice that is just different enough to show that he is not fully human. These minor changes are very clever and effective. Mutually excited, G. Petto and P.Nokio rap together about what fathers and sons do together, interacting with the audience as they do so by having them join in on the rap. G. Petto decides to send P.Nokio to the “Old School” so that he can become a real boy by learning style, rhymes, and finding his true talent.

G.Petto (James Johnson, center) presents ‘The Book of Rhymes’, with the Graffiti Fairy (Paige Hernandez, left) and P.Nokio (Psalmayene 24, right). Photo by Scott Suchman.

However, P.Nokio reaches a Fork in the road (a memorable Katy Carkuff, completely clad in shining silver and donning a pronged wig), where he can either go to the Old School or The Way of Fun and Trouble. Deciding that the Old School can wait, P. Nokio sets off on a dangerous adventure, beginning when he meets swindlers Fox and Cat (Katy Carkuff and Jacob Yeh) who try to trick him into handing over his ‘street credits.’ Meanwhile, G. Petto finds himself in a troublesome situation, and P. Nokio must find a way back him. Can he find his way out of this mess and save his father?

One thing I loved about this production was that the adults really did enjoy it as much (if not more so!) than the children. Pop culture jokes are hidden in the dialogue, which ensures that adults are not left out of the fun. the choreography by Paige Hernandez is upbeat and lively, and with so much excitement and color, it is nearly impossible to look away from the stage. The cast is buoyant and energetic, especially Jacob Yeh, whose hilarious facial expressions really stand out among the rest.

For a show that the whole family will enjoy and remember for a long time, I highly recommend a viewing of P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical. 

Running time is approximately 60 minutes without an intermission.


P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical plays through March 11, 2012, at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. Purchase tickets by calling (301) 280-1660, or order them online.

Watch a video preview of P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical.