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Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway to present poetic raps at Zoellner

Produced by Russell Simmons, Def Poetry Jam on Broadway will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 31. The production features nine exuberant poet-performers who exude rage, humor, wit and unfettered openness about their lives on topics ranging from love and politics to sex and Krispy Kreme donuts.

Since its inception on HBO in 1991, this production, which debuted on Broadway in 2002, has developed into a cult-like experience, straddling the fence between rap and poetry. The poet-performers play against an abstract streetscape and combine the cadences of rapping, Jamaican toasting, preaching and comedy.

“I believe poetry’s time has come,” says Simmons, who started the Def Jam label and produced albums by L.L. Cool J., Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. In the 1990s, he became interested in the spoken-word performers who were appearing on hip-hop albums and touring cafes, colleges and competitions called poetry slams. With director Stan Lathan, the executive producer of Def Comedy Jam on television, Simmons pitched the idea of a poetry series to HBO. In 2001, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry appeared on the station.

Poetry slams, which began in Chicago in the 1980s as mock-Olympics for poetry, ultimately turned serious with local teams and national championships. Each poet would deliver one poem per round, soon to be relieved if he or she were not entertaining; the next poet would perform immediately.

Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway has had the singular effect of uniting two audiences, a young multi-racial crowd and a traditional older audiences. Critics have hailed the performance as a “fast-paced, highly charged evening” (Time Magazine). Def Poetry is organized into four segments: identity, memories, love and a final message. As Ben Brantley of The New York Times says, “The hardworking choruses of musicals…can dance until their shoes lose their taps, but they still won’t generate the energy found in this gathering of angry young poets.”

Tickets for the Oct. 31 EdgeEvent performance are $25 (orchestra/front grand tier), $24 (back grand tier) and $20 (balcony). For tickets, call 610-758-2787 (7LU-ARTS), visit Zoellner Ticket Services, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 1l a.m.-2 p.m., and two hours before curtain, or order online. Student, senior, group and LVAIC discounts are available.

Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway is part of Zoellner Arts Center’s EdgeEvents, a series of avant garde, cutting edge performances.

This performance is supported in part by The Rider-Pool Foundation, the 2004-2005 EdgeEvents funder; Wachovia, the Zoellner Arts Center 2004-2005 presenting sponsor, and by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2004

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