I’d heard a few numbers by this multifaceted songwriter and saw (reviewed) Be More Chill, but until now, remained a virgin to Joe Iconis & Family. Make no mistake, the talented tribe (25 last night), comprised mostly of what I gather are former school mates and theater friends, IS a phenomenon.
Collaboration is so joyous; affection and respect so palpable, the broad clan of actor/ vocalists (and musicians) might just as well be blood relations. They seamlessly move around the club and one another (many carrying bar drinks) with precision of long association (and good staging.) Arrangements of pop, rock, and rockabilly songs constituting “family” mash-ups use voices to their best advantage, showcasing not just material but Iconis’s extremely talented buddies.
54/Below chatters with anticipation. Every show is a reunion. All this crowd is missing are team t-shirts and a mascot. Audience members table hop, greeting fellow devotees with yelps and hugs. Fans clap, shout, cheer, mouth lyrics and eventually sing, recognizing much of the music and most performers, which change to some degree from evening to evening. Selections are drawn from the writer’s library of both musicals and free floating songs.Joe Iconis leads, plays piano, and sings surrounded by decorative, let’s-put-on-a-show-in-a-barn holiday lights.
“The Whiskey Song” traditionally opens festivities. Whiskey sure works and Lordy, I love it, Lordy I Love it, Lordy I love it…Iconis sings, abruptly stopping to run to the bar and secure a drink…Voices swell from one to dozens with a rambunctious whomp. Next comes “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into” (Be More Chill ) performed by Seth Eliser and his folksy solo guitar. The gentle rendition is sincere and ingenuous.
Krysta Rodriguez’ “Broadway, Here I Come” is not what you think…I’m high above the city/I’m standing on the edge…Balletically throwing her arms wide like Rose DeWitt Bukater at the prow of the Titanic, this character is intoxicated imagining flight. Resonant vocal gets inside us fast. Disaster draws like a moth in flame. Haunting.
One can only conjecture at the impetus for “Velociraptor,” a lonely creature having no luck at a singles bar. Liz Lark Brown stands before the microphone with bent elbows and two fingered fists, jerking her head in ersatz dinosaur misery, emitting a sort of tremulous creature cry. From the bar area, a back-up group adds coo coos. Effectively deadpan and droll.
“Right Place/Wrong Time,” a rockabilly story/song, is ably delivered by Katrina Rose Dideriksen and Eric William Morris (currently in King Kong),two fine voices with spot-on western cadence and attitude. Spoiler alert, she “accidentally mows him down.” There’s a lot of violence in Iconis songs.
Lauren Marcus, the songwriter’s wife, usually on stage in Be More Chill, offers “Adore” from a musical-in-development about gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson: You were more than a lover/You were never a friend/ You were just an event/That I lived to attend…she sings as Thompson’s second wife, Sandy. Part melody, part parlando with some soprano oo ooo for good measure (the writer like wordless expression), the song shows Marcus’ acting chops.
“Veins,” written for and rousingly performed by Annie Golden, is from Broadway Bounty Hunter, about a down-on-her-luck actress who somehow ends up pursuing criminals for reward in South America -alas so loud, many lyrics are lost. (Opens downtown in July.) “The Three Failed Escape Attempts of Sheila Nail” from Love in Hate Nation finds Molly Hager trying to flee incarceration. The number, which includes another suicide scenario, starts dark and witty but gets musically lost. Hager is pithy and sympathetic.
George Salazar, (Be More Chill’s “Michel in The Bathroom”), gives us a highly theatrical “The Song of The Brown Buffalo” from the Hunter Thompson piece. Food, booze, drugs, guns, and radical politics, the lyric chants. Performance is splendidly hot headed, effect unquestionable, tune elusive. Jason Sweettooth Williams (Be More Chill) and family wind up the evening with a sweet “Goodbye Song.” This performer seems to arrive with character credibility.
An evening with Joe Iconis and Family is entertaining and full of surprises. Direction is inventive; lyrics imaginative, if occasionally prose-like. Some of the numbers are difficult out of context; others stand on solid ground. Some are intriguing and/or infectious, others cliché. The prolific songwriter has a recognizable style, put plays with it enough so time spent is not static. Did I mention he has seriously talented friends?
There’s no question we’re going to hear a lot more from Joe Iconis. I’d say, fasten your seat belts. Meantime, this was fun.
Other Performing Family: Gerard Canonico, Morgan Siobhan Green, Ian Kagey, Dennis Michael Keefe, Rachel Lee, Jeremy Morse, Rob Rokicki, Mike Rosengarten, Lance Rubin, Jared Weiss
Joe Iconis and Family
April 22, 2019
Upcoming Iconis & Family Shows: Sun, Apr 28: 9:30 pm, Tue, Apr 30: 9:30 pm, Mon, May 6: 7:00 pm, Sun, May 12: 7:00 pm, Sun, May 26: 9:30 pm