Theater Review: 'Bash'd!' at Celebration Theatre
Just in time for last Friday night's performance of “Bash’d! A Gay Rap Opera” at Celebration Theatre, New York state legalized same-sex marriage. This announcement added zing to the good-natured, provocative musical, which approaches the issue as fervently as, if more rhythmically than, the New York State Senate did.
Celebration’s West Coast premiere has successfully weaned “Bash’d!” from creators Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock, who originally played the two leads, first in their native Canada and then off-Broadway.Their words and Aaron Macri's music stand on their own. Energetically directed by Ameenah Kaplan, to the lively beats of DJ Jedi, the appealing Sean Bradford and Chris Ferro step up as hip-hop narrators Feminem and T-Bag as well as the tragic heroes Jack and Dillon, who fall in love, marry, suffer a gay-bashing, gun down the perpetrator and go out in a blaze of glory.
It’s a little “West Side Story,” a little “Thelma & Louise,” and ebulliently, triumphantly gay.
The marriage of two seemingly incompatible cultures—gay hip-hop!—results in bracing and cheerfully vulgar lyrics. As Feminem and T-Bag keep reminding us, it’s OK for marginalized groups to claim discriminatory terms.
Jack and Dillon pick their way through the minefields of both straight and gay society toward true love. Dillon’s homophobic dad/loving mom and Jack’s two supportive dads (who send him out to the clubs with poppers and Ecstasy and the warning “Don’t do meth!”) are all gently mocked and forgiven.
The meanest number, a snarky catalogue of patrons of the gay club where the boys meet, adds some edge to a plot that is otherwise a bit sanctimonious. The boys’ idealized love story makes “Cinderella” look cynical, and the upbeat ending risks trivializing the preceding violence. And while rap is a great medium for braggadocio, the lyrics go all gooey in the romantic scenes.
Moments of pure exposition (“Everybody, everyone, it’s time to begin/the meeting of the support group that we are all in”) would probably work better in prose. Still there are plenty of clever lyrics to keep the audience engaged and chuckling. Bradford and Ferro throw themselves into their roles and into Kaplan’s vigorous choreography, and their sweetness and optimism elevate “Bash’d!” above a topical rant.
“Bash’d!” Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 23. $30. Contact www.celebrationtheatre.com or (323) 957-1884. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.
Photo: Sean Bradford, left, and Chris Ferro in "Bash'd!" at Celebration Theatre. Credit: Sean Lambert