If the words Gay Rap Opera sound to you like a three-way oxymoron, then you haven’t heard Feminem and T-Bag rap to the sounds of DJ Jedi in BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera, now playing at Hollywood’s Celebration Theatre. Take rhymes like “Get off my fuckin’ back okay, I like to suck dick / Now fuck me in the ass and I’ll write rhymes about it,” set them to a gangsta beat, find a pair of hip-hopping triple threats like Sean Bradford and Chris Ferro to bust those rhymes, give the whole shebang one of the most exciting stagings in town, and you’ve got another great big Celebration hit to shout out about.
The brainchild of Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, a pair of white Canadians who’ve performed their gay rap opera off-Broadway and across their native land, Bash’d now makes its U.S. West Coast debut in a production likely to be the best of the bunch now that director/choreographer extraordinaire Ameenah Kaplan is at the helm, adding interracial love, a live DJ, and a dazzling projection design by Marc Rosenthal to an already potent mix.
BASH’d is first and foremost a love story, told hip-hop style by the aforementioned Feminem and T-Bag (Bradford and Ferro). The leather-jacketed duo rap the romance of Jack and Dillon (Bradford and Ferro again), who meet in the early 2000s, fall head over heels, and then tie the knot—legally, this being our rather more enlightened neighbor to the North. Things soon turn dark however (the show is titled BASH’d after all), with it only becoming clear in BASH’d’s final moments exactly who these two rappers are and why Jack and Dillon’s story means so much to them.
It’s hard to imagine a couple of gay men who come from more different homes than our hip-hop heroes. Jack has been raised by a pair of gay Dads who’ve encouraged him to be whoever he’s meant to be, gay, straight, or anywhere in between. Dillon’s opposite-sex parents are of a considerably more conservative bent, and though his Mom is the more willing of the two to accept her gay son, Dad is another matter entirely, and soon Dillon finds himself alone in the big city—alone, that, is until he meets Jack.
In one pulsating hip-hop number after another, Feminem and T-Bag chart Jack and Dillon’s story to the infectious melodies of composer Aaron Macri. Like most young gays discovering big city LGBT life, the couple meet in Boys’ Town, though not before discovering (and rapping about) the multitude of “types” that fill the city’s bars and dance clubs night after night. Flamboyant drag queens, big burly bears, crystal meth-addicted twinks, in-your-face lesbians, preening muscle boys, boyfriendless fag hags, and prowling chicken hawks—all of the above are brought to vivid, often hilarious life by Feminem and T-Bag.
Jack and Dillon’s first meeting soon turns from excitement to love to a proposal of marriage, and if BASH’d has been mostly good fun up till this point, it becomes uber-romantic as our two heroes rap their vows in hip-hopping rhymes. And then… Well, suffice it to say that Happily Ever After may not be in the two lovers’ cards.
I hope that BASH’d’s creators can make it down to L.A. to see the magic made here by the sensational Celebration team headed by a brilliant choreographer-turned-director, a pair of couldn’t-be-better leads, an expert DJ/musical director, and a gaggle of designers working at the peak of their creativity.
Ameenah Kaplan is, as L.A. theater aficionados will tell you, the Scenie-winning choreographer of Altar Boyz, The Women Of Brewster Place, and one Troubies show after another. Taking directorial reins here in addition to designing dance steps, Kaplan’s imaginative, high-energy work insures that there’s never a dull moment, particularly with a duo as charismatic and talented as Bradford and Ferro, each of whom gives voice and movement to a dozen or so roles and does so at a level few others could come close to. Word has it that it was tougher than usual for the Celebration to cast this particular show, but luck was on their side when they found BASH’d’s dynamic duo. (Swing Jason De Puy gets the exciting challenge of covering both roles in addition to serving as dance captain.)
Having DJ Jedi spinning discs live on stage (and playing a character or two to boot) provides added excitement, as does an inspired mix of pre-recorded projections of Bradford and Ferro which accompany their live performances in a number of ingenious ways.
As for the show’s highly distinctive look, credit the crackerjack design team Kaplan has brought along for the journey, beginning with scenic designer Evan Bartolettti and associate scenic designer Lisa D. Lechuga, who have reconfigured the Celebration’s thrust stage on a diagonal, marking this possibly the first time in Celebration history that no one has had to sit behind “the infamous pole,” reason enough to celebrate. Mix Bartoletti’s and Lechuga’s edgy urban set with Christian Epps’ dazzling lighting, Robert Arturo Ramirez’s rocking sound design, Naila Aladdin Sanders’ standout array of costumes, and Michael O’Hara’s carefully picked properties, and you’ve got a design package that bigger budgeted productions would find hard to top.
Marking the final production of Michael A. Shepperd’s three-year Artistic Directorship of the Celebration, BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera is produced by Ryan Bergmann with associate producers Cameron Faber, Michael C. Kricfalusi, III, and Nathaniel Matthis. Shepperd, Michael C. Kricfalusi, and JohnMichael Beck are executive producers. Sean Lambert is production stage manager and Brandon Newhouse assistant stage manager. John Wilson is music consultant and Jami Rudofsky casting director. Associate artistic director Beck takes over as AD with the Celebration’s next production.
Be advised that BASH’d runs only about sixty-five minutes, so plan your evening or afternoon of theater accordingly. Despite a shorter running time than most first acts, BASH’d: A Gay Rap Opera makes for an exciting, entertaining, gut-wrenching, and ultimately uplifting hour or so of theater at its most innovative and cutting edge.
Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
June 18, 2011
Photos: Daniel G. Lam