The world premiere of Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion’s “J.O.B. The Hip-Hopera” is dazzling, a spectacle of such dense wordplay, energetic movement and musical diversity that it’s almost too much to fully savor in one viewing. Directors Stefan Novinski and Hassan Christopher bring tremendous visual innovation to the show and have honed the perfs of the two leads to razor sharpness. Although this play is a loose retelling of the Biblical story of Job, author-stars Sable and Batalion are really commenting on the current hip-hop scene, and the free-flowing wit and invention of their writing is stunning in its dexterity.
Hoover Records is the biggest hip-hop company in the world, and Job Lowe (Sable and Batalion alternate in the role) is head of A&R. Most people in the company, from the devilish VP of finance Louis Saphire (S/B) to the higher-than-thou president J. Hoover (S/B), are simply in it for the money. Lowe, however, wants to get away from gangsta rap and instead embrace hip-hop’s inherent artistry.
Unknowingly, he becomes the victim of a bet between Saphire and Hoover and has everything stripped away from him, just to see where his true loyalties lie. Wannabe rappers MC Cain (Sable) and MC Abel (Batalion) see this demotion as an opportunity for themselves to get noticed, and if Job can swallow his pride, they might be his shot at redemption.
Sable and Batalion are excellent, trading off playing characters from moment to moment in a dizzying display of acting prowess. Sable seems to get more of the sympathetic material, and he’s convincing as the idealistic Job and MC Cain, though his bitchy interpretation of Saphire has a wicked edge to it. Sable’s wizened, bent-over, garrulous J. Hoover is hilarious, an ancient Gilbert Gottfried maddened with power. Batalion excels with the angrier roles, and his version of Saphire seems barely able to contain his boiling rage. He is also very funny as the well-meaning if not brilliant intern Eleanor, intoning her slacker motto: “I can do, like, whatever, if my heart is pure…”
An integral part of the production, the fantastic ensemble sings and dances — and these performers can move. Aimee Zannoni, in particular, has a lithe, graceful authority. Christopher’s choreography and staging are so impressive that one could remove the words from the piece and the show would still be electric. His use of moveable metal frames is ingenious — first as desks, then as doors slamming shut and finally as a series of hoops for Job to leap through — and the concept of turning the circular logo of Hoover Records on the floor into a giant turntable is simple but brilliant.
Nikkema Taylor adds her lovely voice to the proceedings, and DJ Creativity lives up to his moniker with wizardly work on the turntables. The original music by Sable, Batalion and Joe Barrucco feels authentic and is toe-tappingly catchy. “J.O.B.” is not only one of the best shows of this year — it’s one of the best shows L.A. has seen in many years.