It was a bit of a long wait in between shows on night number two of this year’s Undercurrents festival. BREAD wasn’t playing this night, and I was running out of ideas. I tried my hand at a bit of small talk with some of the cool kids, ran out material at about the five minute mark, then shambled awkwardly down the stairs to sit alone at a table and wait the hour out until the next show began. I shoulda done like Langston, brought the laptop, and started writing up the first show then and there…crafty bugger took the cloakroom over and everything! But that’s why he gets the big bucks, and I’m wearing the same outfit for, like, the third day in a row. Sheesh.
After about an hour, the hour passed (funny how that works out) and it was time for the second, and last, show of night number two. It was my first repeat viewing of the festival, since this is one of the two shows that were poached from last year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival, and rightly so. Tonight, it was 411 Dramaturgy‘s HIP HOP SHAKESPEARE LIVE MUSIC VIDEOS, created by and starring Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown. One of those rare shows that’s almost exactly what the title sounds like it will be, HHSLMV is a cavalcade of one-after-the-other song parodies (or ‘Filksongs’ as we used to call them, back in my fanfiction days…but I digress), taking popular songs of the hippity-hoppity variety, and fusing them with some of Billy Shakes’ greatest hits. The result is a pretty damn crowd-pleasing affair.
Now, Mel and Dave may be white as mayonnaise (which explains their expansive Shakespeare knowledge, obviously), but they’ve clearly spent many an hour in the hip-hop world, and they can rattle off a rhyme with the best of them. The duo prove quite quickly in their show that the wordplay of Shakespeare jibes just fine with that of several modern day rap masters. Kanye, Tupac, Eminem, Notorious B.I.G and many more are represented in the show, and even though my own hip-hop knowledge is woefully inadequate, I liked the show even more the second time around. The opener, their version of MacBeth set to…someone’s song (I’m sorry, I’m really quite clueless and dumb about a great deal of the world sometimes) is a goddamn marvel, and sets the bar high for the rest of the show. The highlights to follow are many, from David’s crouching, preening Shylock from Merchant of Venice chanting ‘Gimme the Loot’, to Melanie’s proud Othello trying to decide if Desdemona is one of his 99 problems or not. There’s some great stagework going on to match the vocals, and Mel and Dave work amazingly together (which may be one of the reasons they got married since the last time Ottawa saw this show). Though I swear they cut out one of my fav’rit bits from the Titus Andronicus sequence from last year, which burns me a little, but I guess I’ll let it slide. THIS time. The rest was pretty damn cool, after all.
HHSLMV is great fun indeed…it may even give some of the audience a better understanding of some of the great works of Shakespeare, if you pay attention. And for those who caught it at Fringe, there IS a new song in there, to tempt you back for another viewing. The sound was noticeably better, I found, than at Fringe, the show is tighter, and the utter goofy thrill of it all is undeniable. Weird Al would be proud, and Melanie and David should be too. And now, I have to take a break before heading back for day three of Undercurrents…in which I have my first and only volunteer shift of the festival, and review the last remaining shows. Next up: LITTLE ILIAD! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)