September 27, 2007
Theater: Sax on the mic molds music into ‘Clay’
Sax was born to two Jewish parents in Manhattan, but spent most of his childhood in Westchester County. His interest in the arts prompted him to seize an opportunity to attend the theater program at Northwestern University, which he graduated from in 2006. Sax said he has always had an interest in hip-hop as well as theatre.
"I bought Notorious B.I.G.'s first album, 'Ready to Die,' and it completely changed my perspective on hip-hop," he said. Astounded by the theatricality of the music, he decided at age 20 to write a piece to perform at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. The result was "Clay." Sax later performed the show back at Northwestern, where he got the attention of the director Eric Rosen, who is responsible for bringing "Clay" to its current home at the Douglas.
The musical follows the life of a Jewish teenager named Clifford as he struggles with the reality of his parents' divorce, his mother's eventual suicide and his own incestuous involvement with his stepmother. Cliff's desire to come to terms with his problems lands him on the doorstep of a smart-mouthed, street-wise rapper named Sir John, who takes the boy under his wing and transforms him into a hip-hop superstar known as "Clay." All five characters are played successfully by Sax, who incorporates small visual and audio devices to help the audience identify whom he is portraying in each moment. One of these items is a microphone, which he uses to represent a phone, a gun and, most cleverly, a woman's mouth. Sax raps live to a pre-recorded R&B/soul soundtrack that he also wrote and produced.
The audience at the Douglas on a recent evening was a motley mix of ages and colors, and Sax succeeded in making hip-hop palatable to what was an obviously hip-hop inexperienced audience. Several of the audience members, who seemed astonished during the first act of the play, were riveted by the final scenes, so much so that they were quick to participate in a standing ovation at the play's conclusion.
Following the run of "Clay" at the Douglas, which ends on Oct. 14, Sax will return to his current home in Brooklyn, where he is writing a separate hip-hop album to be titled "Dreams," which will chronicle a person from the time he falls asleep to the time he wakes the next morning. And though Sax considers himself a secular Jew, he hopes that through music and theatre he will be able to tap into the universal human struggle and use his microphone in another way altogether, as a mouthpiece for a sense of community among all races.