Shakespeare could never have imagined that his words would be used in a rap, but after seeing 11th Hour Theater Company’s The Bomb-itty of Errors, one suspects that he would be pleased with the results.
The show is a wickedly clever hip-hop musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors from the collective minds of Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Erik Weiner and Jeffrey Qaiyum (the five conceived the show as a student project at NYU).
With a few minor deviations, Bomb-itty sticks surprisingly close to Shakespeare’s play (which itself is lifted from Plautus’ famous Roman comedy Menaechmi). The story focuses on twin brothers, both of whom are named Antipholus (David Raphaely and Michael Phillip O’Brien) and their twin attendants, both of whom are named Dromio (played by Steve Pacek and Thomas DelPizzo). One Antipholus and his Dromio reside in one city; the other Antipholus and Dromio live in another. They are all unaware that they have a twin brother, a situation that leads to much confusion and amusement. Adding to the fun, one Antipholus is married to a woman named Adriana (O’Brien) who likewise has a twin sister Luciana (DelPizzo). If all that weren’t enough there’s a flat-chested hooker, a Jewish jeweler, a cop in hot pants and a basketball-loving nun, and part of the fun is watching the actors execute the lightning-fast costume changes that the characters require.
Initially staged by 11th Hour in 2007, Bomb-itty was the young company’s first big success, garnering Barrymore Awards for lead actor in a musical (Rob McClure) and best ensemble in a musical. This past spring, they launched the current production at Milwaukee Rep and now it opens 11th Hour’s seventh season. For the 2011 production, McClure has been replaced by Raphaely, who more than meets the rigorous demands the energetic show puts on its cast.
Since 2007, 11th Hour has grown artistically. O’Brien said that the first production, “was all about getting the rap and choreography down.” In the current production, the actors are clearly comfortable with both the lyrics and Samuel Antonio Reyes’ dazzlingly intricate choreography; their confident performances drive Director Megan O’Brien’s assured production.
Polished but still filled with youthful swagger, the ensemble performs Bomb-itty ’s hip-hop score with joyful abandon. The music is catchy and the twisting rhymes are both funny and often very witty. Instead of being hampered by Shakespeare’s 16th-century prose, Bomb-itty captures the musicality contained in the language. More than that, 11th Hour’s production evokes the exuberant spirit of the Bard’s broad comedy. It is laugh-out-loud ridiculous and the cast’s over-the-top performances (as well as Holly Payne’s outlandish costumes and wigs) serve the uproarious material nicely.
No one performer pulls focus or diminishes the cohesion. 11th Hour co-founders O’Brien and Pacek are by far the best vocalists in the bunch, and DelPizzo is hilarious as the dim but lovable Luciana. And while one might expect the lone newcomer Raphaely to struggle with the musical’s intricacies, he handles the language particularly well, aided no doubt by his considerable experience with Shakespeare.
When 11th Hour first staged the show, it wasn’t yet Philly’s top presenter of musical theater. Now it is, and the remounting of Bomb-itty is a chance to see one of the city’s most valued theater companies at the peak of its artistic prowess.
Through Sept. 25. $18-$28. Skybox at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. 215.987.9865. 11thhourtheatrecompany.org
Calendar: Sept. 2-9