The original cast recording of The Public Theater’s production of Venice, the combo hip-hop, rock musical with a book by Eric Rosen, music by Matt Sax and lyrics by both which opened in the spring of 2013 is now available on line and comes to stores in December. Although the dystopian tale of military occupation, terrorism and revolution could well have been set in quite a few cities in the here and now, the creators opted for a fictional Venice in the future as offering more freedom for stylistic innovation and allowing for more inventive symbolic content. In a sense it is an attempt to universalize the shows themes.
The fairly complex plot of the show is summarized in a booklet that accompanies the CD. Suffice it to say if you haven’t seen the show, the summary here isn’t likely to mean very much to you. But since it also includes the complete lyrics, you can toggle back and forth between the two and get a reasonable approximation of the relation between the music and the plot. Of course, some may feel that if you haven’t seen the play, there’s little reason to buy the album. Not so, this is a musical with an innovative soundscape building on the foundations of the rock operas that have become a staple of the popular theater. It has a score you may want to hear and savor.
The cast features composer Sax as Clown MC, kind of the rapping genius behind the action. He opens the show with “Citizens of Venice” and runs in and out through most of the play. Jennifer Damiano, the play’s romantic center, gets most of the more conventional musical numbers, “Willow,” “Sunrise,” and “If Only.” These are some sweet melodies, although as some have complained their lyrics can sometimes lapse into the banal. Haaz Sleiman her romantic counterpart joins her for an early rock duet, “Waited All These Years,” does a bit of rapping on “Put Out the Light” and provides some contrast to the rapping Clown in songs like “Wings.”
Angela Polk adds some rapping on the song named for her character, “Hailey Daisy,” and joins with Sax and the ensemble on “Liberation (Pull Up the People)” the dynamic first act closer. Uzo Aduba, Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black) plays a ghost and does a little singing in “Anna” when she is introduced and later at the end of the play.
Clearly not traditional musical theater, Venice is an interesting example of how modern creators are trying to build and perfect new directions. They are not always successful, but they bring with them a creative vitality that promises much for the future.