Entertainment Spotlight

KC Rep’s ‘Venice’ gets a run at NY’s Public Theater

Musical with Midwest roots will be staged next spring at a prestigious off-Broadway theater.

Updated: 2012-12-14T05:43:15Z

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

“Venice,” an original musical that received its world premiere in 2010 at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, will be staged at one of New York’s most prestigious off-Broadway theaters.

While other shows carrying the Rep’s name as a co-producer — including “A Christmas Story” and “Tom Sawyer” — have played New York, this production will be a milestone for Kansas City’s leading nonprofit theater company. It was written by Eric Rosen, the Rep’s artistic director, and Matt Sax, who composed the music, and much of the early work on the show was done in Kansas City.

“It feels like its DNA is in this town, and that was very different from ‘A Christmas Story,’ ” Rosen said. “ ‘Christmas Story’ originated in the mind of its producer, Jerry Goehring, and we were brought the project to develop. For this, Matt and I came up with the idea, and we wrote every word in it.”

“Venice” is set in a city in the not-so-distant future. All the elders have died in a costly war, and now the younger generation is struggling to plot the city’s future. The music is a mashup of hip-hop, soul, pop and rock.

“Venice” was commissioned by the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, where Rosen restaged the show after its Kansas City premiere. Both the Rep and the Center Theatre Group will receive prominent billing above the title when it plays the Public Theater.

The Public announced Thursday that “Venice” would begin performances May 29 and officially open on June 13 in the 275-seat Anspacher Theatre, one of five venues operated by the Public in the former Astor Library in the East Village. The show runs through June 23.

The production is part of the company’s Public Lab series, designed to expose the work of emerging artists to a New York audience in scaled-down productions with affordable ticket prices. Tickets for “Venice” will be $15, an exceptionally low price by New York theater standards.

Rosen said he was confident that “Venice” would have a life after the Public Lab staging, but what form that takes remains to be seen. The Public has a long history of opening shows that later transfer to a Broadway theater, where larger audiences and potentially larger paydays await.

A recent example is the rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which began as a Public Lab production but went on to an eventual Broadway run. Among scores of other awards, the Public has claimed 42 Tony Awards for Broadway productions.

“That’s happened a few times” said Mandy Hackett, the Public’s associate artistic director. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. Sometimes shows start at the Public and get produced by another theater company.”

Hackett saw the Los Angeles production of “Venice” and was immediately struck by how singular it is.

“It has a very unique voice,” she said.

She said the teaming of Rosen, who is equally at home with traditional and alternative forms of theater, and Sax, whose performance background is in hip-hop, produced results unlike any other show she’d seen.

“When you put their aesthetics together, it’s very startling and unique,” she said. “It didn’t really make me think of anything else. I think that’s one of its great strengths.”

Rosen said the possibility of an eventual Broadway run for “Venice” has been in the back of his mind from the beginning, but at the moment he’s concentrating on getting the show up at the Public, where he and Sax have continued to work on the piece in a series of workshops.

“The prize of having my biggest New York show, something I co-wrote, at the Public is enough for me right now,” he said. “I have to think about how to make the show as exciting as it possibly can be for the audience at the Public. If there are more gifts ahead, I won’t be ungrateful. … This is really a dream come true.”

To reach Robert Trussell, theater critic, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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