by: Sandi Durell
A tale of what’s to come? Let’s hope not. When, into the future, the fictional city of Venice finds itself under corporate control and split into two sections as a result of a terrorist attack, there are some who got out when the dictatorship took over and live in the Safe Zone outside the City, and those remaining inside under military control. Childhood friends and sweethearts, Venice, (played by Haaz Sleiman – “Nurse Jackie”) and Willow, (played by the sweet and soulful voiced Jennifer Damiano of “Next To Normal” and “Spiderman” fame), separated at that time, their parents dead, find themselves searching for one another as they correspond figuring out how to mend the horrors that prevail and help institute reunification and themselves as lovers.
This cartoon-like story (with shades of Othello) unfolds in waives of hip hop, rap and pop rock music, as the rap spewing narrator or Clown MC (Matt Sax, also lyric & music writer) unveils the story in Chapters with sub titles that appear as projections (Jason H. Thompson) around the walls of the Pubic’s Anspacher Theater. The rap narration goes something like – – “pleading for life we need to trust change will come when we will chant as one” while the City suffers with a regime of two zones.
The military is under the hand of the young Theodore Westbrook (Jonathan-David) who has been in love with Willow since childhood. He is being orchestrated with love advice and other by his top military man Markos (a scheming Leslie Odom Jr.) who provides a winning performance, and as it turns out, is also half brother to Venice! Ah the intricacies of politics and romance!
Some of the more gentle songs are pleasant on the ears – “Willow,” “Sunrise” – the cast is hi-energy hip hop style dance created by Chase Brock. Sax’ writing partner Eric Rosen wrote the book as well as lyrics with Sax and also directs. There is additional music by Curtis Moore.
The role of Markos’ dead mother Anna (Uzo Aduba), as she returns in spiritual guidance, is strong. Victoria Platt as Emilia, Markos’ wife, gives a notably worthy performance as his suspicious, yet loving wife – “I Need A Change Tonight”. The sexy, hot and steamy role of Lady Hailey Daisy (Angela Polk) – think Gaga – as a “performer” and sex toy distraction works well when scheming is the name of the game, as she unleashes her sizzling action to distract Michael (a well cast Claybourne Elder), a security chief and friend to Willow and Venice, helping in the cause of unification, as he plays guard in the wedding scene. There’s lots of wild, edgy dancing and then . . . it’s KA-BOOM.
This isn’t the most high level rendering of the written word, but makes its point in appealing to younger audiences in musical style they can better understand. So – – maybe there is a future in theatre in how to attract those young folk.
“Venice” continues thru June 30th.
*Photos: Joan Marcus