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Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway

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An exciting, wildly original show, conceived by Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan and based on the HBO television series of similar name, "Def Poetry Jam" features 10 different poets who perform alone, in a group, and in pairs, all riffing on contemporary culture in sometimes hilarious and cutting ways.

How can a show featuring poems work in any way? Well, this is not poetry per se, at least not the poetry of Yeats or Frost or Auden. In fact, this is not even traditional slam poetry, where much of the angry and sassy material whizzes over your head or washes down all over you. In truth, these urban-influenced performers have written theatrical monologues, some denser than others, some broadly comedic, many of which work fairly well as stand-alone stage exercises.

Most of these monologues feature rhyming, and many also tend to involve a liberal geopolitical slant on American life. Some of the more political pieces are self-congratulatory or even idiotic, such as a piece by a poet named Black Ice that seems to directly blame the World Trade Center disaster on the United States government. But most of the pieces work, with the best pieces tending to involve the more intimate details of a poet's life, such as when a poet named Georgia Me rhymes about being overweight, and when a poet named Lemon raps about how being physically beaten is preferable to being heartbroken.

Almost all the poets are natural actors with huge stage presences, with Georgia Me, Lemon, Steve Colman, Staceyann Chin, and Poetri standing out particularly. Framing the show is a DJ named Tendaji, who provides quite a bit of energy at the start. Conceiver Lathan also directs, and he has these performers in mighty impressive sync as they parade around the stage with amazing confidence and precision for relative theatre novices.

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