Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Hip-Hop Shakespeare (undercurrents)

Gangsta Shakes
Bringing the Bard to life through modern music styles
Valerie Cardinal
David Benedict Brown and Melanie Karin don’t look like your typical rappers. Brown is bald and wears a lime green headband, while Karin is a short white girl. But through Hip-Hop Shakespeare, both show that they can hold their own with the rhythmic musical style. 
Hip-Hop Shakespeare is a charming performance of music video vignettes that set Shakespeare’s plays to the music of modern bards such as Jay-Z, Kanye West and Tupac. Although this might seem like an odd concept, it makes sense. As Karin mentioned in the talkback following the premiere, there are quite a few commonalities. People complain about the misogyny and glorification of violence in rap, while forgetting that Shakespeare often included those same elements in what we consider classics of the stage. 

Obviously, this production is more fun if you have read the plays, or at the very least know a bit about them. However, this could be a good intro to Shakespeare for rap-loving younger people. Maybe if Shakes was introduced like this in schools, more teens would be interested in his plays. My personal favorite was a mash-up of Othello and Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” which was clever and immensely funny. 
I was impressed that Brown and Karin kept up the energy during the 50 minutes they were bouncing and rapping their way across the stage. Karin shows that she’s Ottawa’s answer to Nicki Minaj, particularly during an intensely crazed performance as Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Based on the dancing, I’m excited that the performers mentioned in the talkback that they hoped to include more choreography in the future. Brown in particular had some unexpectedly impressive dance moves. 
Hip-Hop Shakespeare left me with one question: Is Kanye West destined to be the next Shakespeare? I hadn’t thought about it before, but now I think it could happen. Maybe we’ll find out in another 500 years.

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