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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Venice. Public Theater (Off Broadway). Book by Eric Rosen. Music by Matt Sax. Lyrics by Sax and Rosen. Director: Rosen. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

Venice: synopsis

Citizens rich and poor, including a pair of young lovers, try to unite their fractured city in a dystopian-future musical by Eric Rosen and Matt Sax, presented by the Public Lab.

Venice: theater review

The Public Lab is entitled to experiments gone wrong, but Venice is a Frankenstein monster of unusual ungainliness. Stitched from lifeless parts, this dystopian hip-hop Shakespeare musical is a bleakly preposterous mess. Imagine Urinetown played straight, for pseudomythic melodrama instead of comedy. Graft on plot points from Othello willy-nilly, and put it through a blender of sloppy rhymes; then picture a cast of musical-theater people performing it with the fervent seriousness of Smash’s Hit List. That’s this show, more or less, and it’s truly a trial. (Venice is two-and-a-half hours long. Had I not been reviewing it, I’d have bolted after five minutes.)

Cocreated by Eric Rosen and Matt Sax (who also plays the rapping narrator), Venice is set in a world where elites are walled off after a terrorist attack, while the others are oppressed by a vague, villainous corporation. Can a wedding between two popular figures—childhood friends Willow (Jennifer Damiano) and Venice (Haaz Sleiman), both looking pretty and vacant—unite their torn city? Or will Venice’s diabolical half brother (Leslie Odom Jr.) kill everyone first, through his quite implausible plots? The better performers, such as Uzo Aduba as Venice’s martyred mother and Angela Polk as a pop star oozing Nicki Minaj–ery, provide some relief in small roles, as does Chase Brock’s spiky choreography, well danced by the urgent ensemble. But Venice is so sketchy and portentous—it suggests the daydreaming of teenagers who’ve seen too much lousy sci-fi, and nothing else—that it can only be scoffed at. Whatever it is, this cannot be the future.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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josh D

Finally a review of this show that matches my feelings about it. With a script full of cliches (a shadowy mega-conglomerate corporation which engages in exactly what kind of business? a "safe zone? seriously???? the haves and the have-nots? How many times have we seen THAT?) The poor cast was handed lines like, "I'll make him pay," and asked to speak them seriously. Matt Sax, whose lyrics are about as deep as a kiddie pool, rattles off his words with style but they say very little and his character is pointless. The rest of the cast tries so hard but their talents are wasted on this. It's been a long time since I've been this disappointed at The Public.

Mike B.

I would dissent only in that I would give it zero stars if I were allowed. It wasn't just bad, it was an insult to my intelligence--an attempt at profundity by writers who have nothing to say.

your average theatergoer

I just want to chime in with a dissenting opinion and say that this is one of the best musicals I've seen in some time. I, too, wanted to bolt -- at the end of the show, to the box office, to buy more tickets for it. I guess it's not everyone's boat, but I found the storytelling exciting rather than ungainly and the style inviting rather than pretentious. Go in with an open mind, knowing that the above review is but one person's opinion.