The company of The Hula-Hoopin' Queen celebrates Miz Adeline's birthday in "The Hula-Hoopin' Queen." The play runs at Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda through April 14. (Courtesy of Margot Schulman)
The company of The Hula-Hoopin' Queen celebrates Miz Adeline's birthday in "The Hula-Hoopin' Queen." The play runs at Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda through April 14. (Courtesy of Margot Schulman)

A Harlem neighborhood is the setting where teen girlfriends playing hula hoops gradually end up planning a hula challenge. The winner of the competition can claim the title of Hula Hoop Queen of 139th Street. This play. now at Imagination Stage in downtown Bethesda until April 14, is adapted from the Oprah Winfrey recommended book “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen.”

It’s a sweet tale adapted for the stage by Gloria Bond Clunie from the book by Thelma Lynne Godin and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Directed by Angelisa Gillyard, the 90-minute production has a six-member, all-Black female cast. The play unfolds on a colorful set where three girlfriends hang out with their hula hoops.

Layers of Problems With This Competition

Planning this hula competition is a major distraction for Kameeka, who was played by Ashley K. Nicholas, an understudy for the performance I attended. Kameeka is determined to beat her friend and oftentimes rival, Jamara, played by Renee Elizabeth Wilson. A third friend Portia, played by Alana Thomas, is the keeper of the rules for the hula challenge. There is a bigger challenge that conflicts with the competition. A milestone 80th birthday party for Miz Adeline, an elder in the neighborhood, is also scheduled for the same time as the hula competition. Kameeka is the lead planner of this party and is consumed with worry about how to pull off both events. In addition to party planning, Kameeka must stay on top of her chores. Understudy Phoenix Cross played Kameeka’s mama Mrs. Caroline Hayes, who doesn’t play when it comes to chores. So, Kameeka tries to convince her rival to change the time of the competition, but Jamara is not going for it.

Rigors of Hula Hoop Training

There are many delightful components to “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen.” When the actors enter, they are each carrying several hoops. Obviously, hula hooping has advanced way past what I enjoyed as a kid. For this play, training was required for all actresses from hula-hooping coach Latif Merritt Schofield from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“Latif came in for an intensive two-day workshop,” Gillyard said about the preparation for the actresses. “By intensive, I mean they were hooping for four to five hours each of the two days. After that, we just made sure there was time allotted in rehearsal to continue practicing.

A Roller Coaster of Emotions

What the audience sees immediately when “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen” begins is that these actresses can really work those hula hoops. The three actresses, who play the teens, were outstanding in their roles, with the usual teen banter and ups and downs in their feelings. Jamara engaged in a little bullying. Tameika Chavis is Miz Adeline, the 80th birthday neighbor, and Deidra LaWan Starnes is Miss Evelyn, another neighborhood elder who is funny, young at heart, and stays busy.

Conflicts between the characters in “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen” have emotions swirling. Assumptions are made between the characters, and many lessons were learned. Some of those lessons come naturally, while other lessons are a result of the love for hula hooping by all the ladies on 139th Street in Harlem.

Fun for Everyone

Gillyard is working with an excellent production crew. Scenic Designer Natsu Onoda Power created a portable set with bright colors that the actors switched out while still in character. Street signs were used to show the time-lapse of days. Costume Designer Alexis Chaney has the actresses dressed in current, comfortable clothes that work well against the colorful set.

Even though this play is said to be for kids at least 5 years old, many in the audience were younger. As soon as the play began, all the attention from children in the audience was on the stage. When the actresses engaged with the audience, the response from the kids came without hesitation. Even if you do not have children, you should see “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen.” It’s a great time.

Imagination Stage is the metro D.C. region’s largest professional theatre for children. “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen” runs until April 14. On Saturdays, there are two afternoon performances, and on Sunday afternoons, there is one performance. For performance times and ticket prices, visit A preview of “The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen” is available online.

Brenda Siler photo

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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