Musical theater thrives on change and
actor/singer/songwriter Matt Sax wants to help usher in a new
generation of musicals. His first musical Venice isa
collaboration with longtime friend Eric Rosen. (Sax wrote the
score, Rosen handled the book.) Venice weaves traditional
theatrical music with rock and hip hop to take us to a whole new
world of the future.
The playis the politically charged story of
revolution brewing in a not-too-distant-future city named Venice.
(No, it is not Italy or California, this is an imaginary Venice).
Sax co-stars with a talented group of stage vets to bring the story
to vibrant life.
A couple of weeks before Venice opens its New York
Public Theater run (from May 28-June 23), we caught up with Sax at a
preview concert for the show at Joe's Pub in Greenwich Village.
Musically Venice is
quite diverse, with aspects of rock, hip-hop and traditional
theatrical score. Were you looking to experiment with styles?
The thing about me is that I don't have any very specific
training. So I write whatever feels good or whatever comes to me in
the moment. That's a very freeing thing and it's also kind of a
scary thing. This is the first musical I've ever written and it's
been a really interesting experience. We've been working on it for
five years, so I've gotten to learn how to write a musical by
writing this musical. It's been very fun. Personally, growing up,
I listened to all different types and styles of music. I grew up
here in New York and was lucky enough to see all of the shows
growing up, so that is absolutely part of my vocabulary. But also
growing up in New York, I grew up listening to hip hop. That was
part of my vocabulary as well.
were some of the musicals you saw growing up that inspired you to
try to become part of this world?
The first musical I ever saw was The Secret Garden.
I was blown away. The musicals that inspired me growing up were
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for sure. Hedwig was a huge
inspiration for me and my one-man show (which was called
Clay). And Bomb-itty of Errors, I don't know if you
remember that. It was down at, I think the Bleecker Street
Theater. It was like four guys rapping, doing A Comedy of Errors
(by William Shakespeare). Then, obviously, I was a Rent
kid. I went and saw it a million times. A few others as well.
That was always a part of my vocabulary. It's what I've wanted to
do since I was six years old.
Bomb-itty of Errors, and of course Venice is loosely based
on Othello. So, when did you decide you wanted to make a
musical variation of Othello? What is it about Othello
and Shakespeare's work in general that it can so readily be
re-imagined for the modern world?
It's interesting, because I honestly believe that
Shakespeare was very, very lyrical, himself. The way he twisted,
bent and created words is really similar to the way that lyricists
are doing that today, hip hop lyricists. That was obviously a
natural connection. I also grew up with a very strong Shakespearean
background, because I was performing in Shakespeare plays since I
was in middle school, through high school, through college. It
always resonated. Those are, to me, the very epic stories. The
very big stories. I believe that any story that is on stage needs
to be raised to the level of ghosts and Gods, or else it's not worth
being told. It's not worth investing in creating a musical. I
think when Eric [Rosen] and I started writing this, we knew we
wanted to have it inspired by Shakespeare to a certain extent. For
us, the jumping off point was Othello, because that was
something that really spoke to us at the time. It could have been
anything at the time, but we were just very drawn to that. Our
collaboration has really centered around our love of Shakespeare and
our love of music. We also come from a performance studies
background in Chicago. I went to school at Northwestern and so did
I was going to ask you how you two started working together.
Yeah, we both come from this performance studies
background, which is the adaptation of literature to the stage. We
have that aesthetic. The thing you didn't see tonight is that the
show itself is very, very visual. We do a lot of inside-out
storytelling and interesting ways. It's obviously narrative driven,
narrator driven. When I was in college, Eric was a few years older
than me. We had a common mentor, this guy Frank Galati. I was
performing my one-man show at school. Frank dragged Eric to come
see it at college. We met and we started working together then.
They say that
theater is a constantly evolving process. How has the show changed
since you debuted it in Kansas City and then in LA a few years ago?
Honestly, I think you're never done with it, right? You
always, always want to work more and more and more on it. Like I
said, the process of learning how to do it by doing it was what we
kind of did. It's really exciting to feel like this is the story we
always intended to tell. These are the songs we always intended to
present. And, yes, we have like a million songs, probably two CDs
worth of music that won't be used for this show. But we needed to
get those to get to these. You know what I mean? We needed to
write those to understand what worked about them and what didn't
work about them. What didn't work about them led us to the songs
that are in the show, precisely.
New York is sort of the Holy Grail of the theatrical world. And being from New
York, you appreciate that more than most.
Oh, my goodness. Yeah.
incredible is it that you are getting his chance with the Public
Theater? How did it come about?
I've always dreamed about working here. It's amazing.
When I was a kid, I'd come here and I'd feel like: one day. One day
I'll work here. I know Eric feels the same way. One day I'll climb
those steps at the Public Theater. And here we are. To feel like
we're in this moment right now and as a relatively young theater
artist, I feel really blessed and really lucky to be able to have
this experience. I can't even imagine a better place for it. The
subscriber audience that exists here at the Public is our target
audience. The way they have shepherded our development of this show
and the way they have supported us, I couldn't imagine a better
place to be. Plus, as a kid I was like one day I'll do it. And
now, here we are.
After this Public
Theater run what are the plans? Are you going to try to get the
show to Broadway, or continue touring with it?
I think it depends. We'll see. We'll see how it goes.
Obviously, we want to do it for as long as possible. It's all of
our dreams, that you've created one thing or multiple things that
can live on. We hope that we've told an universal enough story that
that's the case. And I have a few other projects that I am working
on right now.
What are your
I've got a musical that I am working on with Center Theatre
Group in LA called Up and Adam. That's based on the
real-life superhero community. You know, people who live at home
with their parents, but go out at night dressed in costumes and
legitimately fight crime. That's what I'm working on next. I think
Eric and I are going to work on something together again as well,
because we have such an amazing relationship. He's been an amazing
collaborator. He's one of my best friends in the world. We've
really grown up together. We've been working together for almost
ten years now.
HIGHLIGHTS OF MATT SAX AND THE CAST OF VENICE IN THE SPECIAL
PREVIEW CONCERT AT JOE'S PUB, MAY 11, 2013