The Gang's New Threads
Written and directed by Rob Hanning and Randy Weiner
At the Leverett House Old Library
Through February 20
TO all those who didn't make it through the final clubs' punching period: chin up--there might still be hope. Why not try out for one of Cambridge's elitist "fashion gangs?" If you can withstand the rigorous "fashion checks" and afford a wardrobe of trendy Williwear, these gangs may be just what you're looking for. In fact, you can see Cambridge's most elite fashion gangs fight for fashion this weekend in the rap musical production of The Gang's New Threads.
The Gang's New Threads, the first production to be sponsored by Harvard's new experimental theater group, Project Space 6, brings together a diverse cast and a creative crew. In November, directors/writers Randy E. Weiner '88, Rob C. Hanning '88 and producer Matthew L. Snyder came up with an idea to produce a musical that combined the elements of drama and rap. Essentially Weiner and Hanning have combined the plots of West Side Story and The Emperor's New Clothes to create a modern rap/funk musical.
With a West Side Story plot set in Harvard Square, the two lovers now become the thoroughly hip couple of Jon (John M. Shecter) and Jane (Felicia D. Phillips). In this contemporary setting, the strict hierarchy of the fashion gangs prevents their union. Jon suffers the misfortune of coming from the wrong label family. His J. August sweats look provincial next to the latest Armani and Williwear fashions that the Cambridge gang members sport.
Jane's brother BMD (Ed Young, Jr.), who is a respected member of the gang, won't allow his sister to date a fashion outcast. So Jon, upon the suggestion of his Harvard friend, Darren (Darren A. Thierry) gains membership to the gang by coming up with a riduculous fashion. So wild is this fashion trend that the gang members initially shy away from it. But the trend catches fire when the Somerville gang picks up on the fad, and fashion is turned on its head--literally.
THE plot sounds vaguely like a dilemma from an episode of Webster or Punky Brewster. But as silly as this musical may seem, the underlying message is well worth repeating in out increasingly status-conscious society.
Though the plot may be trite, the vibrant cast turns this sitcom-like melodrama into an hour's worth of truly enjoyable entertainment. In organizing Project Space 6, Weiner and Hanning wanted to inject some raw and new energy into Harvard theater. They did this by enlisting the talents of students who have had little or no dramatic experience. Providing the actors with a skeletal script, Weiner and Hanning let the performers project themselves into their characters, bringing a ring of authenticity to their roles.
One of the highlights of the musical comes at the beginning of the play when Harvard preps Jim (James P. Connolly) and Eric (Eric Pulier) try out for a fashion gang. Dressed in wool and corduroy the two lamely rap to the tune of Beethoven's Egmont Overture: "People ask us where we get our looks/ And we tell them the Brothers Brooks."
As Jon and Jane, John Shecter and Felicia Phillips give some of the best performances in this rap musical. Rapmaster Shecter, one of the few experienced members of the cast, is a member of the group BMOC. His single, "Guaranteed to Rock," produced by Nile Rogers, has already risen to No. 13 on the British pop chart. Shecter, who has nailed all the gesticulations and the rhyme schemes, has no problems with the rap numbers.
Phillips, as the duped Jane, gives a thoughtful and moving performance. Other notable performances include Darrin Thierry as Darrin and Ed Young Jr. as BMD, both skilled rap artists.
Sound director Rob Hanning, a veteran DJ at Harvard parties, has put some amazing mixes together. These riffs are certain to set the audiences swaying into the aisles. The informal set with graffiti-covered backdrops also adds to the festive mood.
The Gang's New Threads is a rapper's delight, but neophytes will enjoy it as well. It raps to an infectious beat and is certain to wrap up the audience with it.
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