Music &Lyrics: Matt Sax
Book &Lyrics: Eric Rosen
Additional Music: Curtis Moore
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Taking initial inspiration from Shakespeare’s Othello, Matt Sax and Eric Rosen presented their contemporary musical Venice at New York’s Public Theater in 2013. With its fusion of musical styles including hip-hop, rock, techno and R&B much of the score would not sound out of place on a mainstream radio station and so this cast recording proves to be an enjoyable collection.
Set twenty years after a terrorist attack has killed tens of thousands in the state of Venice, the nation is divided under military rule. Venice Monroe (Haaz Sleiman) wants to restore the democracy with the help of Willow Turner (Jennifer Damiano), daughter of the assassinated President.
Drawing comparisons to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, Matt Sax himself stars as the Clown MC and raps his narration, introducing the characters in ‘Citizens of Venice’, an exciting opening number with an edgier, rockier sound than the Latin-infused In the Heights. Sax is a charismatic presence throughout the recording and delivers the rap segments with flair but songs such as ‘Wings’ also demonstrate how well his voice blends with the smooth, rich tones of Sleiman.
Venice has an obviously strong ensemble but it is the female performances that stand out. Uzo Aduba brings gravitas to the rôle of pacifist Anna and you can easily imagine Angela Polk stopping the show with her powerful vocals as Hailey Daisy. Jennifer Damiano’s pure, clear tone is perfectly suited to the rôle of Willow; two highlights are the keyboard and string-laden tracks ‘If Only’ and ‘Willow’, which draw upon more of a pop-rock style. These tracks provide a welcome change of pace but also allow Damiano and Victoria Platt as Emilia Monroe to showcase their vocals and inject a little more personality and depth to their characters.
The plot is complex and the booklet provided helps to shed light on the intricacies of the story as some major events do not come across through the songs alone. Some of the rhymes are overly simplistic and the lyrics veer close to cliché on occasion; for example the final message to “Give us just one moment to shine” seems disconnected and tacked on to provide a more uplifting conclusion. Up to this point Venice is unmistakably an adult show, with serious themes and a consistently dark narrative; a more dramatic final track could have provided a more powerful ending.
If you prefer traditional musicals, Venice may not be for you but for anyone interested in contemporary theatre this cast recording is a fresh, vibrant addition to the genre with numerous stand out tracks. It remains to be seen if the musical itself will have a future life but this is a high quality recording to preserve a varied and vivid score.