Coming Home to New York with Venice: Matt Sax's Show Prepares for Public Theater Premiere

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25 May 2013

Matt Sax
Matt Sax

Getting acting tips from Kevin Kline while attending a Knicks game was not something Matt Sax expected when he was a teenager. Nor did he expect to cross paths with Kline again 14 years later at the Public Theater, where he is mounting his first musical and Kline is revisiting one of his most famous roles.

Sax, who was playing the role of Nick Bottom in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, had just seen the film adaptation of the play, which featured Kline in the same role. When he saw Kline at a basketball game, he decided to ask him about playing the part.

"I snuck up to him, tapped him on the back, and there he was – a total luminary in my mind – and I asked him about the process of the play and with the part that I was playing at the same time," Sax said, describing the encounter.

Kline sat and talked with Sax throughout the entire halftime presentation, discussing the role.

"He was so gracious and lovely," Sax said. "It was totally inspiring."

Fourteen years after his conversation with Kline about Nick Bottom, both Sax and Kline are crossing paths again at the Public Theater, where Sax's new musical Venice is in rehearsal at the Public Lab and Kline is returning to the role of the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance for a one-night fundraising gala at the Delacorte Theater June 10.

"We live in circles, don't we?" Sax said, reflecting on the journey of Venice from its origins in Los Angeles to the Public Theater, a place he had dreamed of working at when he was a child.

Venice's route to the Public Theater has been a circuitous one. The show has been produced in six workshops in Los Angeles, in full productions in Kansas City and Los Angeles, and several other workshops throughout the country. Now, the musical, with a book by Eric Rosen, music by Sax, lyrics by Sax and Rosen, additional music by Curtis Moore, and choreography by Chase Brock, will begin previews May 28, with an official opening set for June 13. The production will run through June 23. The show is directed by Rosen, Sax's long-time collaborator.

Venice is set in a dystopian near-future fictional city of the same name. The musical follows a young man's journey as he fights for truth and honesty in a city of corruption.

Along with Sax, the cast includes Uzo Aduba, Jennifer Damiano, Jonathan-David, Claybourne Elder, Leslie Odom, Jr., Victoria Platt, Angela Polk and 
Haaz Sleiman, and the ensemble includes Emilee Dupre, Semhar Ghebremichael, 
Devin Roberts and Manuel Stark.

Sax, whose one-man show Clay was inspired by Henry IV and Falstaff, gets many of his ideas from Shakespeare, saying, "I'm inspired by great stories, by big stories. I've always believed that theatre should be raised to the level of ghosts and gods, and that's what makes the live experience special."

Along with Shakespeare, Sax credits world events, especially ones related to politics, as inspiration for Venice, including the nomination of Barack Obama, Arab Spring and the Boston bombings.

"What we saw in the stories that we were inspired by were very fundamental, very basic theatrical aspects," he said. "Betrayal, jealousy, grand love stories and miscommunication."


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