BWW Interview: Claybourne Elder on the 'Different and Exciting' VENICE, Returning to the Public, & More!

BWW Interview: Claybourne Elder on the 'Different and Exciting' VENICE, Returning to the Public, & More!

The Public Theater will soon present the new Public Lab musical Venice, with book by Eric Rosen, music by Matt Sax, lyrics by Matt Sax and Eric Rosen, additional music by Curtis Moore, and choreography by Chase Brock. Directed by Eric Rosen, Venice will run Tuesday, May 28 through Sunday, June 23 in The Public's Anspacher Theater, with an official press opening on Thursday, June 13.

BroadwayWorld recently got to chat with Claybourne Elder, who plays Michael Victor in the musical, about the show's unique sound, collaborating with his fellow castmates, upcoming projects, and so much more. Elder last appeared at The Public in Road Show and recently appeared on Broadway in Bonnie and Clyde. His additional Off-Broadway credits include One Arm, for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk award.

So how would you describe Venice?

Because it's a new story and a made up place and a made up world, I feel like it's difficult to categorize. I think that it's firstly a love story, but also a political tragedy about a country trying to emerge after 20 years of occupation following a 9/11-style attack that destroyed the city. So it's about terrorism and revolution and love.

And how does your character fit into all of it?

I play 'Michael Victor,' who has come back to the city to try to create a peaceful nation along with my best friend, 'Willow'- who is the love interest, and 'Venice'- who is the young leader rising in the city.

There is buzz that the show is going to have a very unique sound- would you agree?

Yes! And that's one of the things that I'm so excited about! People ask me all the time: "How's the show going?" and "What's it like?" My favorite thing is being able to tell them that it's so different. It's unlike anything you've seen and in the most exciting way.

The sound is a big part of that. The music ranges from musical theatre to R&B to hip-hop and even some rap. It's a very broad spectrum and it's music that you wouldn't traditionally hear.

So you'll be rapping in the show?

Oh yes, it's very much an ensemble piece. I'd say that more than half of the songs we all sing in at some point. So we all get a chance to do it all. Jenn Damiano and I were joking about it the first day. She said, 'Do you think we'll get street cred for this?'

How have rehearsals been going so far?

We're just halfway through our second week, so everything is getting up on its feet. We're going to do our first stumble through soon. They've still been doing a lot of rewriting, and when you're developing a new show it's like that. One day you're feeling on top of it and the next day you're ten days behind.

There are some really great people in this cast, what's it been like working with them?

Theatre artists are always saying "This is the best cast I've ever worked with." But this one really might be. Everyone is really fantastic and collaborative. At the end of our first week of rehearsal, very last minute on a Saturday we said 'Let's have a party! Does anyone want to get together?' and every single person came. We all just really enjoy spending time together.

You've worked at the Public in the past- what's it like being back?

It's great because the Public gave me my first job ever. So getting a chance to come back and reconnect with all the people who I used to work with was great. Like the prop guy and I were hugging yesterday when he came for a meeting. There's nothing like being at the Public for that reason.

But since my first show there, there's been a huge renovation. They have this huge bar space...I don't think I'm going to leave that theatre. It will be Joe's Pub for drinks, then dinner; go to the rest area and curl up on the couch; wake up in the morning; go ask Oskar [Eustis] for breakfast and do it all over again.

You've gotten the chance to be a part of a lot of new shows. Is that something you prefer?

I feel very lucky in that regard because it is luck when you stumble on to a piece that needs you, and that you can offer something too. My degree is actually in Dramaturgy, so I think I seek it out more than usual because I feel like I have a strong voice. When a director or company is looking for someone like that, I think that I'm a person that they think of, because for better or worse I'm opinionated. That's a part of the process that I love.

Seeing as it's Tonys season, are there any productions or people that you'll be rooting for in June?

All of them? Can I root for them all? I have a big heart for Laura Osnes. She's definitely someone that I look to, especially because of all that she's been able to do at such a young age. And this is her second nomination! That alone is so huge!

Do you have any other projects coming up?

I'm doing a one-night benefit reading for The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me. It's for BC/EFA. I'm always swamping myself with concerts and things but that is the big one. But to come see me sing ridiculous songs all over the city, follow me on Twitter!

VENICE will also feature Uzo Aduba (Anna Monroe), Jennifer Damiano (Willow Turner), Jonathan-David (Theodore Westbrook), Leslie Odom, Jr. (Markos Monroe), Victoria Platt (Emilia Monroe), Angela Polk (Hailey Daisy), Matt Sax (Clown), Haaz Sleiman (Venice Monroe), and Emilee Dupre, Semhar Ghebremichael, Devin Roberts, and Manuel Stark in the ensemble.

Single tickets, priced at $15 for this Public Lab production, are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (212) 967-7555,, or in person at The Public Theater at Astor Place at 425 Lafayette Street. The Library at The Public will also be open nightly for food and drink, beginning at 5:30 p.m., and Joe's Pub will continue to offer some of the best music in the city.

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