The world renowned National Theater in Washingion D.C. was packed on Friday November 11th when a classic nineties film receives the stage play treatment in New Jack City Live On Stage. Playwright Je'Caryous Johnson is behind the project and essentially follows the film script from Thomas Lee Wright and Barry Michael Cooper.
Drug tycoon Nino Brown (Treach) and his minions Gee Money (Allen Payne), Keisha (Torreri Hart), and the Duh Duh Duh Man are collectively referred to as the Cash Money Brothers, and they have rapidly risen to the top of the New York City narcotics trade. Under Nino's heartless leadership and with the help of Nino's girlfriend Selina (Claudette Ortiz) and her cousin Kareem Akbar the drug operation has grown into a multimillion-dollar empire.
Detective Stone (Big Daddy Kane) recruits practical but loose-cannon detectives Scotty Appleton (Gary Dourdan) and Nick Peretti to bring Nino and his cohorts down. Enlisting the help of Benny "Pookie" Robinson (Flex Alexander), a former stick-up kid and recovering crack addict, Scotty and Nick soon learn that toat to bring down Nino, they have to play by his rules.
The moment the play was announced, there was an immediate backlash from the film fans on how it would translate to the big screen. Honestly, I was skeptical. Thankfully Je'Caryous Johnson has two decades of experience to pay homage to the classic. The play starts with the background music of classic songs from the film, which had the audience singing in unison. We then meet Treach as Nino Brown, who opens up with some ominous dialogue.
Given the opening, I was under the impression that Johnson would have the plot device of a dead narrator, but he doesn't go that route. Treach avoids doing a carbon copy takes on the Nino character and instead puts his menacing vibe on the iconic villain. This acting style carries over to the remaining cast members, who put their spin on their characters, with everyone having a moment to shine. Even Allen Payne, who reprises his role from the film, portrays him differently here.
One of the most unique and innovative things about the play is the backstory that Johnson gives the characters. In fact, should we ever get a New Jack City prequel in some capacity, Johnson has crafted a great starting point for an aspiring writer. Naturally, since this is a stage play, there are some limitations on what we can see on stage, but Johnson and his team of actors make it work for the medium they are using.
Potential viewers should go into New Jack City: Live On Stage with an open mind. Furthermore, seeing the play with a packed house of fans who could quote the lines added to the night's fun. While the play never tries to top the original movie, it does pay a wonderful homage. Here's hoping that Johnson continues his trend of adapting classic nineties black films, as I would love to see his take on Waiting To Exhale or The Five Heartbeats.
Final Grade: B
New Jack City Live On Stage is currently touring across the country. For tickets visit www.jecaryous.com