Presented by New Federal Theatre, casting by Pat Golden, at Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center's Harry De Jur Playhouse, 466 Grand St., NYC, Nov. 2-30.
In the rousing hip-hop musical "Diss Diss & Diss Dat," the beginning is the end for Funke Natives, a popular rap group of the 1980s. Loosely based on the story of their early success, with book by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, this highly entertaining cautionary tale relives the positive roots of rap.
Du Kelly is Black, the narrator for this group of four friends, who begin rhyming together in Harlem. They achieve visibility after winning the amateur competition at the Apollo Theater. "Black Movie," "Boom, Boom, Bip," and "Urban Contemporary Jeep Music" soar with soulful raps and cutting rhythms in the first act.
But when a major record label offers to sign them to a deal, Black willingly fires their first manager, Diamond. Then record executive Ice, played with bristling arrogance by Rodney Gilbert, persuades Black to go solo, and things quickly spiral downward for the outspoken LaLa, Tut, and drug-addicted Sugar. Black, however, discovers that he cannot work without them, and his effort to reunite the group is the uphill struggle of the second act.
As the drug-addled Sugar, Jonathan "Jas" Anderson gives a harrowing performance of "Live Wire." McKenzie Frye endows Diamond with layers of integrity as she reunites later with Black to try to salvage the group. Together, they convince the fiery LaLa, portrayed with electric vitality by Amber Efé. Bryan Taronn Jones is cast as the friendlier Tut.
The end comes soon after the reunion when Sugar, after beating his drug addiction, reveals his infection with the HIV virus and dies—returning the play to its opening funeral scene.
Original group members Michael King and John Fulton wrote the infectious rhythms and rap. Maharaj directs with a unique charismatic vision and versatility. Sound design by Jairous L. Parker effectively supports the rap vibe, as do John Pollard's set and the demonstrative lighting by Antoinette Tynes.