Let's begin by clearing the air: I don't like hip-hop. Call me unhip, call me out of touch, call me a hater; you can also call me a cab if you intend to change my mind by playing me the seminal albums, because I've heard them and the music does nothing for me. It's all clicks and bells as far as I'm concerned.
And yet I loved The Bomb-itty of Errors. Conceived and written by the brains behind MTV's short-lived hip-hop sketch comedy show Scratch & Burn — Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory Qaiyum and Erik Weiner, with music by Jeffrey Qaiyum — this re-imagination of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors replaces iambic pentameter with hip-hop beats (supplied by DJ Spae, who looms over the stage in a classic DJ booth and periodically comments on the action) and adds an anarchic sense of comedy. This Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Off-Ramp production is 90 minutes of unadulterated, high-octane entertainment, suitable for fans of hip-hop or fans of Shakespeare, but especially for fans of clever and inventive musical comedy.
Shakespeare's basic story remains intact. Two sets of identical twins, sharing the names Antipholus and Dromio between the four of them, are separated at a young age but fated to reconnect later in life. The reunion is the crux of the play, and it leads to an ongoing series of Shakespeare's beloved mistaken identities — and the playwrights mine this simple idea for every last laugh by having their cast of four play multiple roles, which leads to a series of hurried costume changes, quick exits and flustered entrances. It is slapstick of the basest kind, enhanced by ribald jokes of the basest sort, told often by men in drag — a pure and loving tribute to the spirit of Shakespearean theater. Director Nick Corley keeps a frantic pace for all this and uses every entrance and exit of the Grandel Theatre to get his cast on and off-stage. The production features one entrance by all four players (not to be spoiled here) that would bring tears of joy to Tex Avery's eyes.
The cast uniformly delivers high-energy performances. They all rap clearly and with good, occasionally great, flow; but then, they must. The show lives or dies based on the believability of their prowess as MCs, and none of them falters or disappoints. The script makes numerous sly references to hip-hop's history, and several songs are homages to the styles of great MCs of the past; the four leads handle the changes well, which is no small feat.
Antipholus of Ephesus (Jason Veasey) and Antipholus of Syracuse (Jake Mosser) both get laughs with their portrayal of the senior brothers, who are arrogant and a bit stiff as written, but the show is owned by the two Dromios. Omar Evans (Dromio of Syracuse) has magnetic charisma and a boisterous delivery, and he's the most verbally dexterous of the four. Jason Babinsky (Dromio of Syracuse) stops the show at least twice with his portrayal of the dim sister, Luciana. Fey, stupid and possessed of a razor-sharp comedic timing, Luciana toys with the audience as easily as she plays with her blonde wig. Babinsky is ruthless in pursuit of another laugh, but never to the detriment of the show. It's a high-risk, high-reward performance, and a joy to witness.
I still don't care for hip-hop — but I'm going to see Bomb-itty at least once more before it closes.
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