If you’re wondering what Shakespeare and adolescents have in common, check out Everybody’s Talkin’, a Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit production deserving of professional acclaim. The theater is nationally recognized for the quality performances put on by its youthful members, ages 8 to 18. In the group’s latest venture, and the first at Mosaic’s new headquarters in the New Center area, not only is everybody talkin’, but they’re bustin’ out in song as well. The play, directed by Kate Peckham, is a rewrite of Much Ado About Nothing, complete with new script, lyrics and music.
Instead of all action taking place at Messina governor Leonato’s estate, as in William’s original, Everybody’s Talkin’ transports you to Leah Nado’s Messina Summer Academy for the Performing Arts. It’s the perfect setup to showcase the company’s multifaceted talent and live musicians.
The play’s Messina Academy is a sort of Star Search, a soap opera sleepover with gossip gone amok and lots of crowd-pleasing laughs. Whether or not Shakespeare would approve of his words being rewritten doesn’t seem to matter when the audience is hooting and howling at Sgt. Dogberry, played by Renardo Pringle, as he breaks in his new custodial assistants, the Super Dope Posse. Pringle and his crew possess comic timing and form far beyond their years and steal the show with their raps and banter. At one point, Pringle screams “incoming” and dives toward his toothbrush on the floor as an audience member observes, “He’s got issues.”
In the middle of the stage a row of judges audition potential academy participants, including the group Lovespell, in which actors Lauren Hollier, Angela Huff-Abney and Glenda Washington play lavender-clad babes singing “Sweet Revenge” in snaky harmonies. The Super Dope Posse, made up of Sam Stringer, Renata Alvolio and Mario Lemons, is a dancing, rapping, gesticulating trio that doesn’t quite make the grade, even with a heartfelt rap, and ends up working for Sgt. Pringle.
Soon everyone at the academy is sucked into a whirlpool of tangled love, jealousy and revenge. Mosaic holds onto Shakespeare’s masked ball and essential dynamics while re-creating characters that range from fairy-tale fire and ice — like the cackling villainess Donna Pedro, played by Brooke Mackie — to the conflicted and estranged lovers Beatrice and Benedick.
Beatrice, played by Rashida Morris, growls, harps and complains about her ex, Benedick. When Benedick, played by Chris Tucker, suddenly appears onstage, one of Beatrice’s girlfriends shouts, “Speak of the devil.” Beatrice bitterly retorts, “A dog is more like it ... he hears his name and comes runnin’.”
With a first act of madcap comedy and a second act that dives heart-first into heavy-duty drama, Mosaic uses song and gossipy innuendo to accentuate the intrigue. As Donna Pedro twists a wicked scheme to destroy the engagement of lovers Claudio and Hero, onstage singing echoes the actions: “Scandalous ... trying to have your way ... don’t care what you do or say ...”
When the Super Dope Posse discovers Donna’s deceptions, they rap, “You have the right to remain silent. If you say something stupid, we may have to get violent.”
Everybody’s Talkin’ is Mosaic’s first professional opening at the General Motors Mosaic Theatre, a 140-seat black box performance venue with state-of-the-art lighting. The theater is located in Mosaic’s new headquarters on the campus of University Prep High School, not far from Wayne State University.
Everybody’s Talkin’ provides a taste of the classics from a group of talented young people in a performance that’s alive, breathing and within reach.
Everybody’s Talkin’ shows Thursdays-Sundays through May 23 at the General Motors Mosaic Theatre (610 Antoinette, Detroit). Call 872-6910 or visit www.mosaicdetroit.org.Anita Schmaltz is a freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org