JOB: THE HIP-HOP MUSICAL written and performed by Eli Batalion and Jerome Saibil. Presented by Foqué dans la Tête in association with the Tarragon at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Opens Tuesday (February 25) and runs to March 9, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15, Sunday pwyc, stu/srs $12. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
These boys put the beat in the Bible. Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion wowed Fringe audiences here and across Canada last summer with Job: The Hip-Hop Musical, theoretically one of the most unlikely pairings of subject and style you'll ever come across.
The initially lucky everyman of the original here becomes Job Lowe (sounds like Joe Blow), whose faith and fortune are toyed with not by Jehovah and Lucifer but rather by Hoover Records exec J. Hoover and finance veep Lou Saphire.
But the ambiguous elements of the Bible tale remain. Why do good people suffer, and is it possible to question the motives of the ultimate deity?
Long-time friends Saibil and Batalion are back for another T.O. run before taking the show to New York City. They both graduated last May from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, with degrees in philosophy -- Batalion's double major included psych -- but sketch comedy, talk shows and rock bands are also in their bios.
Job grew out of a bar show called The Grafenberg All-Stars, a collaboration with DJ Paul Bercovitch, who helped create the beats for the current stage piece.
"The All-Stars were a satiric hiphop group that rapped about unusual things -- epistemology and cooking chicken," says Saibil on a quick interview run to Toronto.
"Gangster hiphop isn't what we're into. For us, the rapping element is about rhymes and wordplay, and it works best when there's real substance behind the style. That's how hiphop began, with a narrative element, and it was only later that knapsacker rappers like Blackalicious and Jurassic 5 were pushed aside by commercial gangster hiphop."
The two performers rap non-stop for an hour, playing all the characters -- including the narrators, Cain and Abel -- rhyming up a Sondheim-like storm and including enough scratchy turntabling to wear out several DJs.
But not all the sounds will be familiar to 93.5 listeners. Some Prokofiev, Mozart, Beatles and Bizet are thrown into the mix.
"This is a show that appeals to all musical tastes. Listen for the shoutout to Grieg's Peer Gynt," jokes Saibil. "Part of the hiphop style is to draw on various musical sources and work them into the piece. We just expanded the library of what we were referencing."
He adds that the show -- which gets a good response from what he calls "the religious crowd" -- has its roots in storytelling that goes back to the Odyssey, in which an earlier narrative was given a new poetic form. Shakespeare, he notes, also put fresh-made rhyming clothes on others' tales.
"Job translates neatly to today's big-business setting, ever since Enron execs were taken away in handcuffs and authoritative bosses were seen not to be perfect. And Nortel proved that cutbacks and layoffs can happen without warning."
Any problems keeping up the show's energy?
"After the first Fringe performance in Montreal," confesses Saibil, "we wondered how we could do it every day for the rest of the summer. But by day four our bodies adjusted; we can do two or three shows a day.
"We even throw in improv each performance to keep ourselves totally in the moment -- and to try to throw the other guy off." JK firstname.lastname@example.org