Mixing Shakespeare and Hip-Hop

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Bombitty of Errors


Salina Journal

The hardest thing about a rap version of Shakespeare is doing iambic pentameter on a beat.

That's been the biggest challenge for actor Jennifer McCullick as she rehearses for "The Bomb-itty of Errors," a musical hip-hop version of one of William Shakespeare's early plays, "The Comedy of Errors."

"In a play, if you miss a line, you can call out for it," said the Kansas Wesleyan University student. "You can't call for a line in the middle of a rap."

That's also been a challenge for KWU student and cast member Amber Brown.

"I tend to talk fast, and when I'm talking in rhythm, it's hard," she said. "I have to learn to slow down a bit."

"The Bomb-itty of Errors" will be staged Thursday through Feb. 17 in Fitzpatrick Auditorium at Sams Hall of Fine Arts on the Kansas Wesleyan University campus.

First performed to critical acclaim off-Broadway in New York City, the fast-paced musical also has been staged in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, London and Amsterdam.

"It was written by a group of out-of-work actors who decided to write something themselves," said Richard Esvang, professor of theater at KWU and director of the musical. "It still uses chunks of the actual text, but done as hip-hop."

Twins separated at birth

The plot of the show remains the same: two sets of identical twins separated at birth -- the noblemen Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus and their two servants, known as dromios -- appear in the same town and create rapidly escalating confusion through a series of mistaken identities.

The rap version deviates from the classical text by introducing an onstage DJ, a Hasidic rapper, a wacky cop, a Rastafarian herbal doctor, a California bike messenger and a nun.

All the parts in the original production were played by just four actors, but Esvang said the cast easily can be expanded to a dozen or more.

Lot of gender-shifting

The KWU production has 10 actors, he said, with men playing the women's parts and women playing the men's parts.

"There's a lot of gender-shifting going on," he said.

The show runs under 90 minutes and is being performed without an intermission.

Esvang said "The Bomb-itty of Errors" was a show he's wanted to do since being hired at KWU six years ago. With a production of the epic musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" scheduled for April, Esvang said he wanted to find a winter show that was simple to stage but fun to perform.

"I wanted to find something the students would enjoy being in and also learn something," he said. "Also I thought the students who come to see it would find it refreshing."

Didn't take long to learn

Esvang said it didn't take long for the actors to get into the hip-hop spirit.

"I originally thought we'd sit at a table and rap until it got into their brains," he said. "But after three days, they had it."

Actor Kourtney Maison, who plays Antipholus of Syracuse, said it's a show both hip-hop and Shakespeare fans can enjoy.

"We rap almost all of it, but some parts are spoken so everyone can clearly understand what's happening," she said.

-- Reporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by email at gdemuth@salina.com.