At the same time that “New Jack City” was hitting theaters, Naughty by Nature was hitting the charts.
It was 1991 and hip-hop was starting to have a major impact on the mainstream. And as inescapable as “New Jack City” was in the world of cinema – the style and arrogance of the detective epic helped influence a new generation of filmmakers and cinephiles – Naughty by Nature was just as inescapable with their hit “OPP,” the Jackson 5-sampling pop-rap crossover that was a Top 10 hit for the New Jersey trio.
Times have changed, but “New Jack City” and Naughty by Nature collide, as Naughty by Nature frontman and hip-hop sex symbol Treach stars in a stage version of “New Jack City.” The touring production, which kicked off its 12-city tour in Philadelphia earlier this month, will stage six shows at Detroit’s Music Hall Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s phenomenal,” says Treach, born Anthony Criss, for whom “New Jack City” is his first stage production in 15 years. “Even when I’m not on stage, I watch the show every night. It’s captivating. I don’t want to miss a thing.”
Treach plays the key role of drug lord Nino Brown, immortalized in the film version by Wesley Snipes. Rap legend Big Daddy Kane takes on the role of Stone, a cop tasked with bringing down Nino (played onscreen by Mario Van Peebles, who also directed the film), and Allen Payne is Gee Money, the same character as he starred in the movie. The play is written, directed and produced by Je’Caryous Johnson, who in 2018 directed a version of the female-directed heist film “Set it Off.”
Treach was suggested for the role by Payne, with whom he starred in several projects, including ‘Jason’s Lyric’ in 1994. “So I didn’t even have to read the role,” Treach said, over the phone earlier. this week.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t have to study. He rehearsed for three weeks with the cast in Atlanta — the two seconds without a script — before doing the show in front of a live crowd. Decades of performing and playing on stage with Naughty by Nature, whose hits also include “Uptown Anthem,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and “Hip Hop Hooray,” prepared him for the task of memorizing his lines.
“With all these years of writing and memorizing lyrics, it really fits me,” the 51-year-old says. “Especially when you quit smoking marijuana.”
Yes, he gave up weed to play the role, as well as alcohol, and he also stepped up his gym routine. It’s a physical role, and he has to do a lot of moving around, climbing stairs, falling to the ground, jumping in the air, performing shootouts, and running on and off stage to quickly change clothes.
Audience members also feel like they’re part of the action. “New Jack City” – which, after its run in Detroit, travels to Charlotte, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis – is not a passive experience; fans shout their favorite lines from the crowd and aren’t prevented from pulling out their phones to snap photos or shoot video. (Patti LuPone would emphatically disagree.)
“People come dressed like they’re in ‘New Jack City,'” says Treach. “People know the iconic lines” – the term “cancel”, when used in relation to a person, is attributed to “New Jack City” – “and they say them with you. It’s like you’re in a movie theater, and you’ve seen it in the movie, but it’s live in front of you. We love to hear the feedback; it’s also fun for us. (The show) introduces a whole range of people to a experience they’ve never had before.”
Treach says he definitely took inspiration from Snipes for the role; There’s no point in fixing something that isn’t broken.
And though he’s used to playing the villain — he’s appeared in three dozen movies and nearly 20 TV shows throughout his acting career — he has no problem being typecast in movies. villain roles.
“As an actor, you’re always ready to change and move up. Even though I play a gangsta role in most of my movies, I make sure I play them totally differently than anything I’ve played in the past,” he said. . “You can rank me, I’ll play the best villain on the planet.”
‘Jack’s New Town’
8 p.m. from Thursday to Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday
Music Hall, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit