Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Who says that a good Broadway show must incorporate a cast of dozens of talented performers with extensive experience, or be performed on a grand stage with the latest and greatest lighting and sound equipment? At the Duke on 42nd street, viewers can enjoy one of the best Broadway shows playing today: “Clay”, a one-man hip-hop performance by the extremely talented Matt Sax. While attending Northwestern University, Sax began to write this musical and performed versions of it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Lookingglass Theatres/ About Face Theatre in Chicago before bringing it to The Duke in Times Square itself. A combination of heart-pumping music, a creative and emotional story, and spectacular acting make “Clay” a worthy Tony Award candidate.
After being seated in the rather tiny auditorium at The Duke, a feeling of personal comfort is created. The stage is so small, and all of the seats are so close to it, that it feels as if you are sitting around a campfire being told a story. This effect creates an attachment to the character and really brings us along for the ride of his coming- of- age story.
Although the story of this musical might not be truly genuine, it is moving and entertaining nonetheless. We have all heard about the pubescent teen going through rough times with his family and with himself, both emotionally and physically. However, Matt Sax and director Eric Rosen put an interesting and unique twist on this concept. The main character Clifford is torn as a little boy who goes through his parent’s rough divorce. His mother eventually kills herself, which Clifford somewhat blames himself for, and lives with his wealthy father who is frequently away on business trips. As a teen without a father figure, Clifford tries to find his identity by himself, and finds this answer through hip-hop and freestyle with the help of his mentor Sir John. Putting his weaknesses and insecurities behind him, Clifford grows up and finds great success as a hip-hop artist.
It is probably hip-hop which makes this show so unique and entertaining. Matt Sax embodies a new Eminem of sorts and thrills the audience with his flowing rhymes. We can all understand that telling a story like a poem to a beat is not easy. However, the talented Sax, who wrote the script himself, had absolutely no problem doing it. Everyone in the audience was bobbing their heads or tapping their feet as the heart-pounding music played. Sax showed extraordinary aptitude as he transformed from one character to the next, taking on a totally different persona. His changing voice, facial expressions, and posture, give all of his characters a new and distinct face.
“Clay” takes the coming-of-age idea and puts it into a modern hip-hop style. Do not let the concept of a one-man show discourage you, because Matt Sax shows exquisite performing ability and truly embodies each and every one of his characters. His lyrics can actually be considered better than many of the rappers out in the mainstream today and he blows the audiences minds away with the powerful messages that the words carry. One man on a small stage can indeed make a remarkable Broadway spectacle.

1 comment

1 Keyana { 12.08.08 at 6:24 pm }

Similarily, Clay also reminded me very much of Eminem, and his semi-autobiographical movie “8 Mile,” where he goes through a similar situation with his absent family and turns into a hip-hop superstar. I agree with your description of the intimacy of the theater, and how your opening really embodied the phrase “do more with less,” in this case an explosive performance. Nice job.