Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera
at West Village Theatre through January 14
Three and a half stars
Cash Money is short and scrunched up, a hunchback almost. His brother Money Pussy is long, lanky and has the world right where he wants it.
They’re brothers – not in arms, but in rhymes – a pair of wannabe musical superstars and the driving force behind Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, an engaging solo show from National Theatre School grad Sebastien Heins that opened Wednesday as part of the 2017 High Performance Rodeo.
Both bros are played by Heins, who plays a dozen other characters, at different times of their lives, as he charts their journey from broke and busted to filling stadiums, until a personal tragedy throws a third act twist into Cash Money’s journey that transforms him into a man.
It all plays out against a pair of video screens that splash projected images as Heins single-handedly tells the story of Cash Money and Money Pussy – it’s a rap video, live on stage, and boy oh boy it feels busy up there!
Because not only does Heins tell us the story of the brothers, but he time travels back to 1977, to introduce us to the story of the boy’s dad meeting their mom – although it sometimes feels like a bit of an excuse just to dig into some great R&B from the era by people like Bill Weathers and Marvin Gaye.
Fine by me – and the packed house who attended Wednesday night’s opening performance. (Do a solo show of nothing but Marvin Gaye songs next!) It’s fun on the ears, and Heins is a charismatic, likable performer – he has major motion picture star written all over him.
(Sebastien Heins in Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera. Photo: Dakota Arsenault)
A lot of the storytelling in Brotherhood is physical, even when it doesn’t involve dancing or action. Heins does a lot of Acting up there – at times, Brotherhood feels like an acting class overdosed on a case of Red Bull.
I wanted to get lost in the story of Cash Money, but kept being reminded that I was watching a virtuoso acting turn instead – which gets tiring after a while. And it’s not virtuoso acting if the main thing one thinks during the performance is, wow! Virtuoso acting!
However, as the show unfolds, Heins slows it down, and allows a little room for the storytelling to breathe – and Brotherhood comes to life the quieter it gets.
It’s more of an epiphany about what works in a performance space than a criticism of Heins and his director Karin Randoja – theatre is so hyper-real, and so hyper-intimate, that less really can be more on a stage. (Multi-media often seems to be just another way of saying, we couldn’t figure out how to fix it in the rewrite).
There’s lots of rhymes being thrown throughout Brotherhood that also suggest if Heins ever wanted to take a shot at straight hip hop, he could compete.
Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera succeeds in exploring the media portrayal of young black men, peeling back the video screen to reveal the person behind the legend – and in the process, serves as an engaging showcase to introduce the world to Sebastien Heins, who has made a solid start en route to forging his own.