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The Bomb-itty of Errors Hip Hop Show at Syracuse Stage Gives Shakespeare a New Rap

By Jordan Allen-Dutton (Rodan)
Jason Catalano (Gruff)
Gregory J. Qaiyum (GQ)
Erik Weiner (Red Dragon)

Music by Jeffrey Qaiyum (JAQ)

Directed by Andy Goldberg


Previews: March 12 & 13, 2008
Opens: March 14, 2008
Closes: April 12, 2008

“So welcome to a new world that ya never been in…
Enough rough stuff to make your mind start spinnin’
It’s a new style, it’s whatever we wanna be
So welcome, welcome, welcome to the Bomb-itty”
Bomb-itty Prologue

Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors comes in for an “ad-rap-tation” as four gifted performers hit the street to launch an assault of non-stop, lightning-paced, side-splitting comedy. With its origin in the Roman playwright Plautus’ wild comedy The Menaechmi, the play involves quadruplets and multiple cases of mistaken identity. This latest incarnation is a hip-hop, rap romp retelling of the famous comedy. After all, the Bard was a master of “word.” Tickets can be purchased in person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office at 820 East Genesee Street, or by telephone at 315-443-3275. Tickets can also be purchased 24/7 at SyracuseStage.org.

The comedic premise used in Bomb-itty has entertained audiences for centuries. Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 BC) first penned The Menaechmi about twins who reunite as adults. When Shakespeare tackled the story in the 1590’s, he wrote The Comedy of Errors and doubled the comedy by adding two sets of twins. For another adaptation, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote the The Boys from Syracuse, a 1930s musical with popular tunes such as Falling In Love With Love, This Can’t Be Love, and Sing For Your Supper. And with Bomb-itty, we now have a rap version-this time with quadruplets-that also incorporates elements from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Bomb-itty, the four male actors play 16 characters with over 70 costume changes.

The phenomenon of Bomb-itty began as a 1998 senior thesis project at NYU, where performances drew a cult-like following. The writers went in search of financial backers, but not in the conventional way. They left little rap messages on producers’ voicemail in the middle of the night, inviting them to attend a special performance. In the end only a couple of the producers showed, but fortunately someone in the audience introduced the show to Andy Goldberg, the director who ended up developing the piece and moving it to Off-Broadway in 2001. Goldberg is also directing Bomb-itty at Syracuse Stage.

Goldberg was instantly struck by Bomb-itty’s appeal. “I really connected to the material and instantly recognized the genius of combining Hip Hop and Shakespeare,” he said. “With both, there’s so much wordplay, rhythm, and cleverness. The language is alive and malleable-both qualities that are essentially Shakespearean and true to Hip Hop.”

His instincts proved correct. The Bomb-itty of Errors was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critic Circle Award, and in 2001 the show won the grand prize at the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. The exposure helped secure an MTV deal for the writers that included a pilot, rights to option a movie of Bomb-itty, and a movie of the week.

Bomb-itty has been performed all over the world to rave reviews in places like Chicago, Edinburgh, Dublin, St. Petersburg, FL and London’s West End. Director Goldberg is thrilled to see the show through its many different productions. He said, “More than anything I’ve ever done, the audiences for this show become impassioned. They all go bananas for it. It’s a real joy to put it up for different audiences and to bring it around the world.”

Bomb-itty is the story of four brothers, quadruplets, who were separated into groups of twos as infants and raised in different towns, Syracuse and Ephesus. Each pair of brothers was given the same two names, Antipholus and Dromio, and neither pair knows the other two brothers exist.

The fun begins when Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse arrive for the first time in the town of Ephesus to make a name for themselves as rap MCs. “Yo, we’re on a mission—everybody listen/We’re representing Syracuse and we’re never quittin’.” But when Dromio of Syracuse leaves to explore the new town, Antipholus of Syracuse stumbles upon Dromio of Ephesus. They mistake each other for the brothers they grew up with, have a confusing conversation, and the meeting ends in a beat down.

Meanwhile, Adriana is complaining to her sister Luciana about her husband, Antipholus of Ephesus: “But sister, I’m still very young/And sister, the jury is hung/And my husband’s not and I’m starting to cry/My heart’s locked in a vault and I’ll tell you why/’Cause it’s his own fault.” Matters only get worse when Adriana confuses Antipholus of Syracuse for her husband. Antipholus of Syracuse is dumbfounded to say the least, but he decides to go with the flow. “Am I Asleep, awake, mad, or well-advised?/I’m known unto them, but to myself disguised!/This place is pretty freaky, I’m feelin sorta moody/But this is an adventure. Besides, I might get booty.”

From there, the cases of mistaken identity become increasingly outrageous. The Jewish businessman, MC Hendelberg, delivers jewelry to the wrong Antipholus; Dromio of Syracuse has a terrifying experience with a woman named Bertha who claims to be his wife; Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Luciana much to Adriana’s horror; Rastafarian Dr. Pinch tries to “cure” Antipholus of his love for Luciana; and the requisite chase scene ensues until finally the quadruplets’ mother surfaces and all is explained.

Along the way, the brothers meet many colorful characters, including a cop who is disturbingly fond of his horse, a trannie prostitute who shows up expecting jewelry from Antipholus of Ephesus, and a Vanilla Ice wannabe who can’t make a rhyme.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot to talk about when comparing Shakespeare to Hip Hop. From couplets to insults, vulgarity and even made-up words, it seems that “Willy” and some of the great Hip Hop artists like Mos Def, The Roots, and Talib Kweli have a lot in common. Lewd, crude, and sometimes rude, both styles are written in the language of the people and meant to entertain.

Bomb-itty breathes new life into a century-old story, making it relevant and accessible once again, but some of the basic tools of language have stayed the same. Essential to Shakespeare’s style is the rhyming couplet, a pair of lines in iambic pentameter, alternately stressed and unstressed syllables. The late Tupac Shakur pointed out the same technique used in Hip Hop, saying, “Iambic pentameter is rap. It’s the structure.”

One might also look to the intense rhymes found in Bomb-itty. For example: “Throughout Ephesus I’m knows as a dependable/All rules are bendable, possessions lendable/Debts extendable, all things I do commendable/While you, you’re
expendable.” And another excerpt: “I will play the weak wife and you the stronger state/But that only pushes me to communicate/Instigate, emulate, consummate, masturbate/Castrate, dominate, then close the gate.”

Adapting Shakespeare to Hip Hop has been done a number of times. Before forming The Fugees, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean performed a Hip Hop musical based on Twelth Night. A Hip Hop version of Macbeth debuted in San Francisco (2002), and Britain saw an all-male street-dancing version of Romeo & Juliet. These are just a few notable shout-outs.

MTV called Bomb-itty “nothing short of brilliant,” pointing out the “clever writing, rhythmic flow, witty musical allusions and intelligent humor.” The New Yorker described Bomb-itty as “witty, lewd and altogether new. Think ‘The Beastie Boys from Syracuse’.” Chicago’s Newcity praised Bomb-itty’s writing team, asking “Who woulda thought a bunch of white boys could give the Bard a little street cred?” And Julie Taymor, director of The Lion King and Titus, said, “If the Bard were alive today, he might well be a rapper…Bomb-itty is rap at its best, theatre at its most compelling.”

Jason Babinsky (Antipholus of Syracuse) recently played Dromio of Ephesus at St. Louis Rep, earning a Kevin Kline Best Actor nomination, and following this show heads to the Huntington and Williamstown Theatres to perform in She Loves Me. James Barry (Antipholus of Ephesus) performed in The Full Monty, Two by Friel after Chekhov, in regional productions of Amadeus, The Misanthrope, Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2, and he plays guitar and sings in the Brooklyn-based rock group Grand Army Arrows. Darian Dauchan (Dromio of Syracuse) has performed in Twentieth Century (Roundabout Theatre Company), Media Madness (Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, NY), and as a spoken word artist was crowned 2007 Urbana Grand Slam Champion for the Bowery Poetry Club. Griffin Matthews (Dromio of Ephesus) is most recognizable as Patrick on ABC’s new series Cashmere Mafia; his other credits include Love Monkey (ABC), Numb3rs (CBS), and in theatre Best of Both Worlds, Once on this Island (Daniel), and Golden Motors. Kheedim Oh, aka DJO (DJ) was the co-musical director along with DJ TH!NK for the seminal Hip Hop theatre piece A Rhyme Deferred, and he makes music with his band The Beatards.

The Bomb-itty of Errors runs at Syracuse Stage from March 12 – April 12. Tickets range from $9 – $45 and are available at the Syracuse Stage Box Office, 315-443-3275 or at http://www.SyracuseStage.org. Students with valid ID may purchase $9 tickets at the Box Office just prior to curtain on the day of performance. Rush tickets available for $15-$25 depending on performance. Student and rush tickets are subject to availability. Group tickets available at 315-443-9844.

Photo caption: Kheedim Oh (aka DJO) in The Bomb-itty of Errors at Syracuse Stage.


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