Review: Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show at Arena Stage

By: Jackson Malmgren for Broadway World, Dec. 12, 2023

When it comes to performing arts, the final two months of the year are always filled with “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol.” Step Afrika!’s MAGICAL MUSICAL HOLIDAY STEP SHOW at Arena Stage shatters this mold and sets a high standard for all holiday pieces. The show is an equal blend of performance and a gathering for all ages.

Step Afrika!’s MAGICAL MUSICAL HOLIDAY STEP SHOW starts before walking into the Fichandler Stage with staff handing out noisemakers to all audience members. As is customary with stepping, the audience is encouraged to cheer and make noise and the audience plays a key role interacting with the performers. The show starts with a high-energy opening number that sets the tone. Having audiences on all sides presents a unique challenge when choreographing, but provides the added benefit of all seats in the house being great.

Following the opening number, our holiday host opens by asking the number of returning audience members to Step Afrika!’s MAGICAL MUSICAL HOLIDAY STEP SHOW. While there are a predictably high number of first-time audience members, there are an equally high number of members who are attending their second (and third, and more!) show- a sign of a burgeoning holiday tradition.

The artists breeze through no less than six costume changes in eighty minutes when not entertaining. The show highlights the key elements of the culture of stepping in various ways including call and response, audience participation, and friendly competition (this critic firmly backed the Gingerbread Men as the winners!). During the DJ Nutcracker’s Yuletide Step Workshop, audience members young and old are encouraged to come down and learn a routine to dance along with the Company. All Company members are warm and inviting and help all new steppers feel included.

Throughout the show, all dancers are given a chance to show their moves in solos throughout the show and are undoubtedly skilled. Step Afrika! has assembled a strong troupe of dancers ranging from the young and talented to the veteran and experienced with this being the first season with the Company for six of Step Afrika!’s dancers and the fifth (or more) season for four. The Company consists of Kenneth L. Alexander, Nya Christian, Jerod Coleman, Ariel Dykes, Kamala Hargrove, Nepri James, Terrence Johnson, Conrad R. Kelly II, Isaiah O’Connor, Na’imah Ray, Valencia Odeyka Emonni Springer, Ericka Still, Brie Turner, Joseph Vasquez, Pelham Warner Jr., and Robert Warnsley. They are joined by special guest Jeeda Barrington, the show’s DJ, the record-spinning DJ Nutcracker.

Artistic Director Mfoniso Akpan and Founder & Executive Producer C. Brian Williams are capable of brilliant, creative works. It would not be surprising in ten years to find a new generation of steppers crediting Step Afrika!’s MAGICAL MUSICAL HOLIDAY STEP SHOW as sparking their interest in stepping.

Following the closure of the show on December 17th, Step Afrika! will be on tour this winter and spring before returning to Arena Stage for “The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence” on June 7, 2024.