A 2,000-year-old, half-space god rapper, a character named Justin Beeverz, a purple-horned demon called Steve and DJ Ashton Kutcher are set to take the stage at the Zootown Arts Community Center for the production of “A Night with Rusty Cleaverz (and Friends).”
Local artist and comedian Kyle McAfee is bringing his new original hip-hop musical to the ZACC Show Room on Friday and Saturday for a night that embodies Missoula weirdness — “demon mischief and dank beats” included. Chris Sandman the Rappin' Cowboy will open.
The show started as an inside joke four years ago between McAfee and his coworkers at the time, which snowballed into him creating a series of characters with personalities and story lines.
“I started recording songs that were from these characters that were made up, and then it just kind of built from there,” he said. “I did a whole SoundCloud EP of all these songs, and then I just started kind of falling in love with these characters.”
For the past four years, he’s been taking it from a series of separately recorded songs and turning it into a live production for stage.
“The show started off as a joke, and then I kind of realized it was like this weird kind of expression of a darker version of myself. There was a lot to work with there,” he said.
The musical features McAfee as Rusty Cleaverz, a 2,000-year-old, half-space god rapper, who is holding his cousin/brother Justin Beeverz (based on real-life pop singer Justin Beiber) prisoner. One night a month, he allows Beeverz to come out and sing. Jordan Demander plays Beeverz, Austin Valley acts as MC Deadman and DJ Ashton Kutcher, and Ruth Dada plays Steve the torture demon.
“It’s more about kind of exploring these characters and less about a narrative,” McAfee said, adding the show’s format includes both dialogue and songs. The actors wear colorful papier-mâché masks created by McAfee, who said they are not necessarily meant to be humans. Artist Corey Hale has recreated the characters for the promotional art for the musical.
McAfee describes the setting as a “hellish Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” and said there is interaction between the characters and the audience built in.
“I kind of set it up like a studio audience sitcom,” he said. “We’ve got this character that plays a demon that’s basically like a stagehand that’s raising cue cards for applause and stuff throughout the show.”
All of the rapping and singing will be done live, and some of the songs in the show have quite a bit of heavy audio effects, which McAfee said they’re working to recreate for the live performance.
“In our tech rehearsal we’re going to work it out and get some effects going, so it’s suggestive of those recorded versions, but not quite the same.”
McAfee grew up in Missoula, getting into hip-hop in high school and playing in a couple different bands during and after.
“All the hip-hop projects I did always had a humorous kind of bent to them, and then five years ago I got involved in the stand-up scene in Missoula,” he said. The musical is a marriage of his hip-hop and comedy backgrounds.
He’s also been teaching the hip-hop camps for kids at the ZACC for around five years, so the location was an obvious choice for the show.
“When the ZACC opened up, I was like, this is kind of a perfect space for it because it’s like a theater and music setup, and it’s new.”
He almost premiered the musical a year and a half ago, but had to cancel due to reasons outside of the production.
He said you don’t have to be a hip-hop fan to enjoy the show, but it helps to have an interest in comedy and an open mind for weirdness. He added the musical is not suitable for children.
After four years, McAfee is looking forward to putting the work out there and introducing his characters to Missoula.
“I feel like I teased this character that I’ve lived with that he was going to get to do it, and now he’s finally going to, and I can kind of flush him out of my system a bit.”