A mash-up of Shakespeare and Eminem, Feast Productions’ HAMLET THE HIP-HOPERA is what the Fringe is all about. Combining passages of The Bard’s Elizabethan verse and prose with current explications and amplifications set to an urban beat, the tragic characters talk, joke, slam, and rap their way through the struggles of life and death with a post-modern attitude that is familiar and relevant to new generations, without losing the universal themes, wit, and eloquence of the original. It’s vital, it’s powerful, it’s funny, and it’s absolutely brilliant, as Shakespeare is and always should be.
Tucker Delaney-Winn is the mastermind behind the production, serving as playwright, producer, music director, and composer (along with Charles Laubacher, Michael Markowski, and Jeff Nicholson), and starring in the titular role. He delivers on all counts, bringing swagger, humor, pathos, and an “antic disposition” to the Danish Prince, displaying a full comprehension of Hamlet’s psychology and motivations, and translating them into an accessible and relatable “hip-hop historical” style.
The impressive supporting cast, under the direction of Phoebe Brooks, also evinces a fine understanding of their characters’ thoughts, emotions, and actions. Among the standouts in the ensemble are Alexander Haynes as Horatio and Steven Bono Jr. in multiple roles (as the Ghost, the Actor, the Gravedigger, and Lucianus), all played with appropriate Shakespearean gravitas. James Sawyer and Virginia Hamilton as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a recurrent source of comic relief and clever repartee (there’s an especially hilarious sequence about what it means “to serve”).
All of this is accomplished with a minimal design; no set, just a black box with hand-held mics and a few props, including “poor Yorick’s” iconic skull, and costumes by Marnie Kingsley that contrast street culture and clowning with the upper-class fashions of today. The closing sword fight/death scene is breath-taking, with exciting choreography by Sam Egle that is executed with precision by the actors. This is a must-see show, and for those who can’t make it to FringeNYC, a must-travel production. [Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk St, NY] August 14-27, 2015; hamletthehip-hopera.com.