The production-heavy hip hop fused world premiere musical Venice thrills. There has been lot’s to love about the Kansas City Repertory’s season. Though I think Artistic Director Eric Rosen may have just topped himself.
Venice, the ‘explosive’ new musical that is world premiering at the Rep, is the theater’s second collaboration between the production’s Writer and Director Rosen and Matt Sax. Sax is credited with creating the music, lyrics, and the outstanding Clown MC of the show. Set in the not-so-distant future it’s themes are easily applicable to today. Not too surprising as Rosen has stated that Venice is inspired by Othello. It’s also been stated that it was lesser so on the election of Barack Obama. The latter influence seemed almost a bit strong initially as Venice Monroe (Javier Munoz), named after the city, comes out in a suit and tie announcing change as the city’s leader.
Venice is a city that has been embroiled in war, every one looks over their shoulder and doesn’t seem to trust one another. It’s all a generation has known, especially in the case of Venice and his brother Markos (Clifton Duncan). The brothers’ mother Anna (Uzo Aduba), a one time city peace leader, died in a bombing at a church, that is what pulled the city into war. That same church in which their mother died has been rebuilt, and will soon see Venice marry Willow Turner (Andrea Goss); Willow isn’t from Venice. The marriage is seen by the war mongers of the city as something that will bring their lifestyle of war, the only one they have ever known, to an end. Knowing this and teaming with the son of a weapons manufacture who is blinded to the realities of the world around him by love, set into motion plans to light the fuse of the powder keg of a city that could destroy the delicate peace it has been experiencing.
The story itself is compelling enough. In tandem with Sax’s superb music that is heavily hip hop fused as well mixing in traditional musical stylings, the show is taken to another level. Mix in the awesome production that has each chapter name projected around the set, as well as having sets and lyrics enhanced by the use of projection, I don’t think the stage at the Copaken has ever felt larger than it does here. In the opening, Clown MC brings out his notebook computer and begins typing, which shows up on the wall behind him. During a press conference, members of the media appear to tower over the audience on either side of the stage broadcasting live.
Each Act has it’s own stand out numbers but Act one was the stronger of the two for me. Though both are strong enough that it’s the equivalent of asking a parent which of their children they like better. Bomb Drops with the large shadows of bombing victims as a war-mongering commander reminds us that he knows how to move about setting fear back into the hearts and minds of those in Venice. The opener, People Forgotten, is a quick hook pulling you into the show. Though the stand out of Act one was lady Hailey Daisy. KC native, Angela Wildflower Polk is Hailey Daisy and the whole number just really popped for me.
In such a strong season at the Rep it’s felt as if the bar is continually raised with each production. It would almost seem like a cliche to state that they closed with their best, though I would argue that this is the best production they have staged this season and is a heck of a way to close out such a great season. One thing is for sure artistic Director Rosen has his work cut out for him. Though I feel the Rep is in his very capable hands and I look forward to it.
I give Venice 4.5 “Macbook Pros” out of 5
By John Coovert