Matt Sax – The Merchant of Venice
by Jay S. Jacobs
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 is a 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 play is 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.
What 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.