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Review: “J.O.B. The Hip-Hopera”

September 28th, 2006

 

by Rob Kendt

 

Here’s the show that Will Power’s The Seven wanted to be: J.O.B. the Hip-Hopera is a fleet-footed rap-style musical on more or less classical themes. It’s fast, funny, and free-form, packed with as many blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jokes and cross-references as a good Simpsons episode. And where most theatrical hip-hop efforts trade on the form’s alleged cool factor, the greater part of J.O.B.’s appeal is in its nerdy, singleminded inventiveness. Gangsta rap, meet geek chic.

 

Co-writers Eli Batalion and Jerome Sable are two white Canadians clearly more smitten by hip-hop’s wit and wordplay than its claims to “street” authenticity. Indeed, in setting their double narrative—which follows Job Lowe, a put-upon music executive, as well as the black-and-white rap team of M.C. Cain and M.C. Abel—at an L.A. record company, they get the chance to deflate a load of hip-hop clichés. One character, the portly Ali Fashid, is in charge of “Gangstafication” at Hoover Records, while the head of marketing, a good old boy named Bill Dodd, lands a product endorsement from the NRA. Without preaching, J.O.B. handily skewers the commercialization of antisocial attitudes that has greased hip-hop’s slide into the mainstream.

 

The impish Batalion, who comes off like a cross between Daniel Stern and Mr. Bean, dominates the proceedings. He stars as the over-eager M.C. Abel and appears in a dizzying variety of other roles, most memorably as a Valley Girl receptionist who sings an irresistible anthem to the downcast Job: “You can do like whatever/If your heart is pure/And never say never/Unless you’re really sure.” As his more sober-minded sidekick Cain, Niles Rivers is equally adept at the relentless shape-shifting required by Stefan Novinski and Hassan Christopher’s kinetic direction, though Rivers proves better at belting out Job’s soulful cris de couer than at the show’s rapid-fire rapping.

 

Co-director Christopher appears in a trio of breaking-and-locking dancers, who also include Marissa Labog and Aimee Zannoni. Christopher also did the sinuous, twisting choreography, which hits that ineffable fulcrum between looking planned out to the millimeter and seeming freely improvised on the spot. DJ Creativity spins the turntables with stunning dexterity, and Myesha Taylor sweetens the pot with soaring backup vocals.

 

The result is a beguiling, occasionally overstuffed mix tape of a show, and if it doesn’t exactly plumb the depths of the issues it raises—race, justice, corporate backstabbing, the age-old battle of integrity and compromise—it riffs on them with such giddy delight and acrobatic deftness that it adds up to a lot more than the sum of its parts. I can’t recall seeing a musical that seemed both so ferocious in its execution and so essentially lighthearted at the same time. And while that combination can get a bit exhausting, it’s not unlike the adrenaline high to be had from the best of Kanye West or Eminem. All hail Sable and Batalion for bringing the noise to the musical theater.

 

J.O.B. The Hip-Hopera

Book and lyrics by Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion

Music by Jerome Sable, Eli Batalion and Joe Barrucco

Directed by Stefan Novinski and Hassan Christopher

45th St. Theatre