Jennifer Damiano, Leslie Odom Jr. and Claybourne Elder blow audiences away at the ‘Venice’ preview at Joe’s Pub

Leslie Odom Jr. in the "Venice" preview concert.

Leslie Odom Jr. in the “Venice” preview concert.

“Theatre is devised rather than written,” Eric Rosen declared. Not only is he the proud director of Venice, a brand new musical that is going to take New York by storm, but he also penned the book and co-wrote the lyrics for it. He had a poised confidence about him during the question and answer session following the numerous astounding performances of the evening. Matt Sax, who stars in the show and wrote the music, sat alongside him.

These inspired men discussed their plan for the future of this musical, which spells out an inevitable legacy. It has changed and evolved over time, and if the audience that evening was any indication, it is bound to be successful during its run at the Public Theater which starts May 28.

Trust me, you do not want to miss Venice.

This preview event was completely sold out. Fans lined up outside the venue, eagerly chattering away about the evening’s ensuing festivities. Many of the concert attendees I spoke to had been sold on coming through the cast alone, which includes Jennifer Damiano, Leslie Odom Jr., Victoria Platt and Claybourne Elder.

The plot of Venice centers around a young man who rises as leader of a fictional society to promote peace and change. This character is loosely based on Barack Obama, though the musical was written before he was officially a candidate for the Presidency. There is also a plotline bearing resemblance to the events of 9/11, making for a partially political tale. The other part has been described as an “epic romance,” involving a love triangle of sorts.

On top of all this, the score of Venice is infused with rock, hip-hop and rap, as well as more standard musical theatre songs. Virtually everyone has the chance to rap just a little bit (even Elder, who excelled at rapping, right along with his pitch perfect harmonies), and it is extremely entertaining. Although the genres of music may be all over the place in terms of range, the cast is able to unite through this diversity and every song is irresistibly catchy.

Seven numbers were showcased at the Joe’s Pub preview. Most were performed by the whole cast; however one standout performance was the second of the night, which showcased Odom’s rapping skills and soaring high notes. Odom is truly a star in the making, and with the help of Kickstarter his album is officially underway. This will not be the last we hear from this incredible performer.

Damiano and Platt gave the audience even more impeccable performances. Their duet “Willow” was an audience favorite of the night, taking the term “power duet” to another level. Their voices blended impressively well, and the eerie yet tragically lovely tone that the song gave off was something to applaud in itself. Both of these ladies have beautiful and strong voices, and will surely be something to talk about when this musical opens.

Other songs performed during the concert included “Sunrise”, “Let Me Be Great” and the classic “Citizens of Venice”. Everyone had a chance in the spotlight, including the incredible Angela Polk, whose performance is sure to contribute to the show’s success.

Along with being astonishingly talented, each member of this machine of a cast was charming, humble and very kind after the performance ended. They were almost bombarded by the overflowing guests in the crowd, yet they all seemed so gracious that we were there in the first place, which was touching.

Venice has been around for years, having made its Kansas City debut back in 2010. The piece itself was imagined long before that, yet during the Q&A with the two masterminds behind the show, Sax and Rosen confirmed that the Public production would be pretty different in terms of both the story and the music. Nevertheless, the heart and soul of it remains intact, which was plain to see during the concert.

As the cast belted out the lyrics, “Give us just one moment to shine” at the end of the night as the creative team looked on delightedly from the seats below, it was clear that they would certainly be getting more than “just one moment.”

Venice will be running from May 28 to June 23 at the Public. Get your tickets while you can!

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