May 2010 Archives
Since I never got around to posting my critique of American Idiot for the Broad Street Review, the show's Best Musical Tony nod and an article by Jon Pareles in today's New York Times seem as good excuses as any to get it up here. But that's not really my purpose today.
Pareles, as a pop music critic, doesn't generally cover theater. And let's face it, it's kind of depressing that a journalist who's been covering rock since the '70s only now feels that the form is reaching a critical mass on the Broadway stage. Seems sort of an exercise in emphasizing how woefully out of touch with popular culture Broadway has become. But to me--and mind you, I love me some Green Day--the less obvious discussion is this: will it take another 40 years before hip-hop makes a dent on Broadway? I guess In the Heights tossed rap into its bag of tricks, but that show's cockeyed optimism only scratched the surface of hip-hop's depth and potential.
It's true commercial hip-hop is in a fallow period right now, with teenybopper pop/rap crossovers dominating the airwaves, but there's certainly no shortage of a back catalog or hungry up-and-comers. With players such as rapper Jay-Z and Jada Pinkett Smith--yeah, her own band favors thrash metal, but c'mon son, her husband's Will Smith, king of populist hip-hop--getting into the producing game (for Fela!) things might soon change. However, if and when they do, Broadway will still be years behind Hollywood, which already mined the genre and its artists for years. I mean, even Vanilla Ice got his own movie way back in 1991.
Eric Rosen and Matt Sax's Venice--a rap version of Othello--is currently bringing some buzz, and its appearance in October at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre might serve as a launching pad for even wider success. And maybe it will take two white kids assimilating rap into Shakespeare for other producers to be open to that music's inherent potential. But it's just plain astonishing that no one has bothered to dig into the operatic rise and fall of Eazy-E, or built a blow-your-mind jukeboxer around Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death (free idea: round out the score with some Li'l Kim), or hired Queen Latifah to do in a jewel box what she does best in arenas, or tapped Lil Wayne or Outkast, or hey, the Jigga man himself, to add their particular musical vision to the American Songbook.