Story: Chance and Money have been friends since childhood. They struggle to pay the bills in their Spin City neighborhood, but dream of having careers as hip-hop artists. When Money’s girlfriend Joi tells him that she is pregnant, Money sees joining the Army as the only way he can make a steady income to support his growing family. He departs for active duty, leaving Chance and their No Plan B hip-hop duo in mothballs.
Three years later Money returns after an extended tour in Iraq. Chance hasn’t succeeded in the music world on his own, so he welcomes Money back to resurrect No Plan B. A local radio personality, Good Boy, takes an interest in them, particularly Chance, and drives them to excel. Despite the opportunity, Money is wracked with nightmares about his military experiences. His post-traumatic stress puts increased tension not only on his music but on his family as well, as he hunkers down in an increasingly defensive mode.
Highlights: This world premiere presented by The Black Rep blends the talents of musical theater artist Steve Broadnax and 13-year, decorated military veteran Michael S. Bordner, so its story has credentials behind it. Black Rep founder and producing director Ron Himes directs a smart cast who invest their emotions and efforts into bringing the tale to life on the Grandel Theatre stage.
Other Info: Unfortunately, Smash/Hit! is overwhelmed by myriad problems and never gains momentum. From the predictable and repetitive lighting and sound by David Warfel and Robin Weatherall, respectively, that drive home the horrors of war that haunt Money, to the awkward development of the relationship between Chance and Good Boy, this two-act drama with music is an ongoing train wreck.
The show’s most pronounced virtue is the presence of Ronald L. Conner as Money. Conner is a chameleonic actor who has turned in four wonderful performances in as many efforts in this Black Rep season. In each case, he absorbs the identity of his character and immerses himself in the traits and quirks that identify each persona. As Money, he delivers the show's lyrics with passion and persuasion while also clearly shaping the man’s tortured psyche.
Matthew Galbreath, saddled with some truly stilted dialogue, does a good job as the upbeat, optimistic Chance, a man who is willing to compromise his artistic beliefs for a shot at notoriety and financial success. Justin Ivan Brown is suitably oily but also pragmatic as a star-making radio personality in Spin City, who becomes No Plan B’s manager as well as coveting Chance’s affections.
FeliceSkye does what she can with the minor, underwritten role of Joi, serving primarily to spark the flames of anger and uncertainty in Money, while DJ Super Nova literally looms above the action on the two-tiered set as a DJ spinning dance tunes at various radio promotions and concert venues.
Jim Burwinkel’s set design is suitably depressing, showing the squalor of Money’s inherited home at stage right, Good Boy’s apartment at stage left and an open area in the center beneath a platform where Super Nova plays dance tunes. Lou Bird’s costumes range from Good Boy’s flair and the down-home attire of Chance and Money to the latter’s military garb.
While the music is true to its hip-hop culture and well performed by Conner and Galbreath, the plot meanders as hopelessly as the main duo's aspirations for fame and fortune. Smash/Hit! even delves into the riskiness of gay artists stepping into a macho musical world among its other plotlines.
When all is said and sung, though, it’s out of tune with any cohesive message.
Group: The Black Rep
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: May 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Stewart Goldstein