nytheatre.com review by Micah Bucey
June 19, 2008
There's a truly beautiful thing happening at the Zipper Factory. BASH'd, a self-described "gay rap opera," is flipping the conventions of musical theatre and gay culture on their heads, beating them around a bit, and ending up with something altogether unique, messy, and utterly mesmerizing. I can barely find a negative word to say about this theatre/hip-hop concert hybrid, so let the barrage of superlative compliments begin.
Writer-performers Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, sporting respective personas T-Bag and Feminem as charmingly as they don Chase Tyler's witty costumes, have crafted a carefully-rendered and fast-paced allegory that angrily speaks out against the rampant homophobia that still plagues this country, all the while keeping their nimble tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. While the setup may sound silly, the message heavy-handed, and the combination of the two potentially disastrous, the show's stars and production team are ready to change their audience's mind with a production that packs a powerful punch in just over an hour.
Full disclosure: I'm one of those people who might answer a question like, "What kind of music do you like?" with "Oh, anything but rap," and I hardly think I'm alone in the gay population of this city. But BASH'd has done the impossible. Its shape and arc have convinced this jaded show queen that there is a solid, gleaming bridge between the wordplay and rhyme-schemes of classic musical theatre writing and those of the rap genre. Craddock and Cuckow (with the able aid of Aaron Macri's music) know their way around clever lines, and the fact that these zingers come at lightning speed over Macri's continuous beats adds to the wonder of the show's inventiveness. The words come so quickly and the rhymes are so surprising that I'll resist my urge to reveal any of the pleasures in store for potential audience members. Suffice to say the lyrics and performances are relentlessly thrilling, touching, and hilarious.
Likewise, it would be a mistake for me to outline any of the plot twists, except to say that yes, T-Bag and Feminem are a gay couple; yes, they are adorably in love; yes, there is a truly horrifying and impeccably staged gay bashing; and yes, Craddock and Cuckow have more than just that on their minds. In fact, the show's perspective on the inevitably hopeless cycle of unnecessary violence is so refreshing that its final 15 minutes still shock even when audience members might think that they've gotten the message loud and clear. The romance unfolds like a Shakespearean drama and the tragedy skewers like the finest of Euripides's offerings. If you don't believe that a "rap opera" can live up to these zealous compliments, you've got quite an enjoyable journey ahead of you.
My raves would be incomplete without mentioning Ron Jenkins's seamless direction, Bradley Clements's uncompromising lighting, and Kris Pierce's thumping sound design. These, together with Chase Tyler's aforementioned costumes lift what is already a tightly-written piece into a slick, fully-integrated, and ferocious production. The fact that all involved seem to be having the time of their lives only adds to the show's infectious energy.
I could present my quibbles, which include a handful of clunky rhymes, but there's just no way that these small problems can begin to take away from the wide-eyed joy and intelligence of this simultaneously simple and intricate spectacle. Craddock and Cuckow are taking gay awareness and musical theatre to a whole new level, and we should feel honored to be along for the bumpy ride.