Will 'Hamilton' Usher in 'Venice' and Other Hip-Hop Musicals?
While I feel we are still years away from seeing what Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton's influence will be on the future musical theatre, there's no doubt that it can be a true catalyst in bringing more hip-hop musicals to Broadway.
The history of hip-hop musicals on Broadway has been a rocky one at best. WIth the exception of Miranda's work there really have only been a couple who have been able to make the leap to 42nd St. Holler If Ya Hear Me, based on the music of Tupac Shakur(starring Christopher Jackson and Tonya Pinkins) was short lived, closing after 38 performances. Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk had a great run in the late 1990's but that show relied more on its creative tap choreography rather than showcasing hip hop music.
So why is it so hard for hip-hop to be a mainstay on Broadway? Well to be quite honest, based on demographic studies, you wouldn't peg most Broadway audiences as hip-hop fans. No offense but I don't expect many middle age, upper-class white women to have an extensive knowledge of KRS-One and the Wu-Tang Clan.
The other problem is that even with Lin-Manuel Miranda's popularity, many still feel that hip-hop isn't for Broadway. I don't think this attitude is racist but I do think it's ignorant and elitist. I might not be a punk rock fan but I can still appreciate American Idiot for what it is. Yet there are people who will refuse to see shows like Hamilton simply because they're hip-hop musicals.
I find this to be a shame because there are a lot of hip-hip musicals that are phenomenal. One of which is Venice.
The Matt Sax/Eric Rosen musical had a short run at The Public Theater in 2013. The cast included Uzo Aduba, Jennifer Damiano, Jonathan-David, Claybourne Elder, Leslie Odom, Jr., Victoria Platt, Angela Polk, Matt Sax, and Haaz Sleiman.
Taking inspiration from Othello, the show centers on the city of Venice which has been at war for a generation. Venice Monroe, who was named for the city, is sworn in as the new leader of the city, promising to bring change to the society. A symbolic wedding is planned between Venice and his childhood friend, Willow. Venice's half-brother, Iago-esque Markos, is a commander in the city's military. He plots to disrupt the wedding and keep the public in fear.
Before its run at The Public, Venice premiered at the K.C. Rep, which starred Hamilton's Javier Munoz, where it was called "the next major American musical" by Time Magazine.
While I haven't seen the show performed live, I've listened to the cast recording countless times(thanks, Molly Veh) and I have to say, it's brilliant.
The show features music from not only hip-hop but also pop and stirring ballads. Don't get me wrong, I love Hamilton but you could make the argument that Venice, in some instances, is far superior.
So will this fantastic show ever get a second look for a Broadway run? The fan in me is hopeful but being the realistic blogger, I think it would take this original cast to reunite to even be considered. With budgets being what they are nowadays, having a star-studded cast is more of a necessity than ever (just ask Great Comet)
But I hope that in addition to Hamilton inspiring a new generation of performing artists, that it makes hip-hop musicals a more popular option for producers to bring to Broadway. In addition to adding diversity to our stages, it would introduce mainstream audiences to hip-hop artistry.
Photo: Joan Marcus