REVIEW by Willard Manus

This 21st century musical deserves to be called a hipopera. Combining an updated version of Othello with video/computer projection, Stomp-like choreography, and non-stop rap music and lyrics, VENICE is not only aggressively modern and cutting-edge but hyper-active. With a book by Matt Rosen, music by Matt Sax, and lyrics by both of them (Sax also plays the role of Clown MC), VENICE has been three years in the making. First developed at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre (where Rosen is artistic director), then workshopped and eventually produced by Center Theatre Group, VENICE has been through the mill but manages to preserve its rough, rude spirit.

A political allegory about a community trying to survive after a terrorist attack, VENICE's story focuses on Venice Monroe (Javier Munoz), a liberal-minded general who wants to bring peace to the community by marrying Willow Turner (Andrea Goss), daughter of the beloved late president. Scheming in Iago-like fashion against him is Markos (Rodrick Covington), an outright fascist who is desperate to become a dictator. Also involved in his over-elaborate plot to eliminate Venice and seize power are his wife Emilia (Victoria Platt) and a sluttish singer named Hailey Daisey (Angela Wildflower Polk).

There are obvious parallels to Othello, but for the most part VENICE unfolds in its own quirky, fantastical way. The story has a comic-book feel to it, but the hard-driving, ever-inventive hip-hop music catches you up in its pulsing, hypnotic spell. Above all, the large, hard-working cast is so spirited and skilled that it's hard not to like everything they do on stage.

Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Call 213-628-2772 or visit