The Fountain Theatre’s production of Idris Goodwin’s award-winning play, Hype Man, is a fast-paced, hyper-energetic, seriocomic wonder that is more serio than comic. It brings the hip-hop scene to vivid life for audiences who may not have experienced it in close, intimate contact. Virtually everybody who watches television has seen rap performances at one time or another. But to have it take place in a small theatre in a brilliant drama is thrilling, consciousness expanding, humanizing, and educational.
A hype man in musical performance backs up the lead singer with call-and-response chants, supporting the lead with exclamations and interjections that tend to hype up the audience’s excitement. The hype man in Hype Man, Verb (Matthew Hancock), reminds rapper Pinnacle (Chad Addison) in a moment of tension, that the hype man has an old and vital role in African American music. Verb points out that James Brown had a hype man, the multi-talented musician Bobby Byrd, who performed with him for twenty years (follow this link to see and hear Bobby and James hype up an audience with unbridled enthusiasm— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0wqd3euhKA).
But I get ahead of myself.
The trio of Pinnacle, Verb, and the invaluable beat maker, Peep One (Clarissa Thibeaux), are on the verge of a great, career-making opportunity to perform on “The Tonight Show” in advance of a national tour. Pinnacle, a white man, and Verb, a black man, grew up in the same neighborhood and became like brothers in their passion for rap. Peep One is a mixed-race woman who was an adoptee and claims to have no knowledge of her racial heritage. The trio’s response to yet another slaying of a black teenager by the police, which was witnessed by Peep One, threatens to unhinge everything.
The cast, under the keen, fast-paced direction of Deena Selenow, delivers extraordinary performances. As Verb, who wears his heart on his sleeve, Mr. Hancock has the jittery, motor-mouthed enthusiasm of a recovering substance abuser a month or so out of rehab. Mr. Addison as Pinnacle projects the mien of a hangdog worrier. Ms. Thibeaux’s Peep One, the true hit-making backbone of the group, gets sandwiched in the uncomfortable middle between the two men when they come into the necessary dramatic conflict.
The production backs up the performance in fine fashion with set design by James Maloof; props by Shen Heckel; an unusual, exciting lighting design by Chu Hsuan Chang; impeccable sound design by Malik Allen; a costume design by Michael Mullen that supports character and action; and the essential, impeccable work of beat maker, Romero Mosley. Sarah Dawn Lowry manages the stage with perfect aplomb.
Hype Man, produced for the Fountain Theatre by Simon Levy, Deborah Culver, James Bennett and Stephen Sachs, runs through April 14 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles.