Matt Sax & Eric Rosen's new musical Venice, on at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through November 14, is one of the best new musicals I have seen in the past couple of years. In brief, it is a post-apocalyptic hip hopera transposing Othello to the not-too-distant future. In practice it is a wonderful modern play that provides a commentary on current sociopolitical issues, invoking Shakespearean tragedy while taking on enough of a life of its own to make the audience forget about the links to the Bard's original.
Sax, who wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics, stars as the Clown MC, a Greek chorus of a man who has grown up in a city called Venice, having been born after the war which isolated Venice as a city on lockdown, under constant threat of terrorism. A politician by the name of Venice (who, coincidentally, preaches a message of "Hope" and "Change") is seeking to save his city from a bleak future, and plans to do so by marrying Willow, who like Venice, is the child of a slain figure from the war of twenty years ago. Unlike Venice, she grew up in the safe zone outside of the city. So did Michael Victor, the young soldier whom Venice has recently promoted to be his second in command, incurring the jealousy of Markos, Venice's half-brother. Markos and Venice share the same mother, a freedom fighter who died in a terrorist bombing, but Markos cannot let go of the fact that Venice is the product of a rape perpetrated by members of the enemy forces.
What follows is a tumultuous tale with all the dread of Hamlet, but with modern flourishes referencing the 24-hour news cycle and other specifically contemporary experiences. The adaptation is faithful down to characters analogous to Roderigo and Emilia, though it takes liberties in how the story concludes. Markos' and Venice's mother plays a role as important and affecting as a Shakespearean ghost. The music, lyrics, and choreography are as compelling and exciting as the music in In the Heights, if more consistently dramatic in tone. I was hooked from beginning to end while watching Venice, and I definitely think it is going to be a hit on Broadway when it makes it there.
If you can make it to a showing sometime in the next month, I highly recommend getting to Venice.