Arts & Life


The worlds of hip-hop and musical comedy rarely intersect, but they're both represented at the movies right now in new documentaries: "The Hip Hop Project" and "ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway." Bob Mondello says both films depict the ways real life can disrupt or jumpstart the creative process.

BOB MONDELLO: In "ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway," director Dori Berinstein goes behind the scenes at four multi-million-dollar musicals.

Ms. DORI BERINSTEIN (Director, ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway): Ladies and gentlemen, places please. The top of act one. Places please.

MONDELLO: To show that what looks effortless on stage isn't.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Take "Wicked," a show based on "The Wizard of Oz," that has been breaking records ever since it opened.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Though "Popular," to quote one of its songs, "Wicked" was a bit of a mess out of town, according to composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz.

Mr. STEPHEN SCHWARTZ (Composer and Lyricist, "Wicked"): I think the major thing that we discovered in San Francisco was that we had not really yet solved and delivered the character of Elphaba, our main character.

MONDELLO: Now that is a problem. And the other shows in the movie — "Caroline, or Change," "Avenue Q," and "Taboo," a Boy George extravaganza produced by Rosie O'Donnell — all had similar issues even before they were set upon by the critics, who are shown here sharpening their fangs at lunch.

Ms. BERINSTEIN: When you put in the mix Rosie O'Donnell and Boy George, there's bound to be some collision going on there in some point so then, you can focus…

Unidentified Man: And if there isn't, you can create one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Every theatrical story needs a villain, and filmmaker Dory Berinstein lets these guys more or less hang themselves on camera while she's blowing air kisses at the creative folks. This may be because she is, herself, a theatrical producer, and sees "ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway" as a sort of love letter to the stage. As a critic, I wanted more of what actors tell you off the record — that this business we call "show" is a cutthroat thing.

The business we call "rap" has always put itself out there as a cutthroat thing, so it's nice to see it pictured as a teaching aid in "The Hip-Hop Project." Chris Rolle, whose stage name is Kharma Kazi, was homeless when he was 14, but by a decade later, he was heading a seriously cool program for Brooklyn high schoolers. It offered them a chance to make a hip-hop CD, provided that they not rap about drugs, guns and materialism.

Mr. CHRIS ROLLE (Actor, The Hip-Hop Project): I want you all to think back to a moment in your life that touched, moved or inspired you and share that with us, because when you share a little bit of yourself, you open others to share a little bit of themselves.

MONDELLO: The premise is so sweet it makes your teeth ache, right? But here's what happens when one 17-year-old trusts the group enough to talk about how an adult once made him feel worthless. The memory reduces him to tears.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) just like you. I want to rap about (unintelligible) like you. My pa (unintelligible) said (unintelligible) just like you. I'm so stressed out, but I'm scared of what the dust might do. How'd you think I felt knowing that no one wanted me, no one missed me, and my father's commonly referred to as no one? I used to feel no pain, raved for 40 days and 40 nights - my life is (unintelligible) rights.

MONDELLO: That the kids throw themselves into "The Hip-Hop Project" may stem from the way their once-homeless mentor practices what he preaches. Kazi is an intriguingly conflicted guy who decides midway through the film to mend fences with his own mother, to whom he's not spoken in a decade — all of which lends weight to the progress the kids are making. As the music gets better in "The Hip-Hop Project," so does the documentary. The premise apparently works. Like the kids, the filmmakers got inspired by the story they were telling; so will audiences.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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