You can’t deny that hip-hop has crept into every form of entertainment now – from the Netflix series The Get Down, to Lin Manuel Miranda’s award winning musical Hamilton. So it’s no surprise that Licensed to Ill, a small-scale show about the life and times of the Beastie Boys has been unbelievably popular in the theatre sphere – there’s rap, beats and bold dance moves, all with hilarious consequences.
It all started with Adam El Hagar and Simon Maeder who concocted the idea of building a show around the surprising rise of the Beastie Boys while flyering and rapping to passers by in London.
From there, the show was born. They fought for their right to party.
And thank goodness they did – because we get a great night out of it.
We follow the highs and lows of Mike D (Simon Maeder), MCA (Adam El Hagar) and Ad-Rock (Daniel Foxsmith) as they accidentally trip upon hip-hop and create one of the most iconic records ever made alongside producer, Rick Rubin (Tope Mikun).
The thing that stands out the most is their ability to morph into these caricatures with such ease – they’re obnoxious, fun, boisterous and unafraid. They step into a world which is predominantly black and face it with complete boldness. We learn to appreciate how they broke boundaries and adapted to their audiences; their tour with Madonna being a specific highlight.
We’re taken swiftly through the humble beginnings of hip-hop, the boys’ transition from punk and their rise to fame – amongst other personal struggles. As they work through the story, the transitions between scenes begin a little shaky, but become much smoother and refined later on. Overall their collaboration is impeccable. I can’t pick out a weak member of the group; they’re all equally slick performers who are obviously passionate about the genre. Nevertheless, Tope Mikun in particular proves to be a truly versatile performer as he jumps from being producer Rick Rubin and puppet master, to the famous “Mix Master Mike”. I appreciate the puppet puns thrown in – something to please the nerds out there.
And of course – a show about hip-hop and the Beastie Boys would not be complete without a bit of audience interaction, right? Cue budget hand-held camera reenactment of ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ music video starring members of the audience dancing, rapping and partying – truly bringing the fun, freestyle vibes of the Beastie Boys to life.
Although you could describe the Beastie Boys career as a ‘flash in the pan’, we certainly got a hell of a lot of entertainment out of them, and this show certainly proves that they left a legacy worth reflecting on. Licensed To Ill is a fitting tribute to the “three idiots” who “creat[ed] a masterpiece” – flawless rap, silly costumes, puppetry and sick beats…what’s not to love?
A rip-rapping triumph.
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