Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

By: Victor Gluck
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A.J. Shively, Joe Iconis (at the piano), Nick Blaemire and Lauren Marcus in “Nelson Rocks!”
(Photo credit: Alex Koch)

You may not have heard of Joe Iconis before, but you will certainly be hearing his name often in the future. This multitalented theater artist writes the book, music and lyrics of his musicals and can often be found accompanying his shows at the piano. At 26, he has already won both the prestigious Ed Kleban Award and the Jonathan Larson Award for work in the musical theater, and is currently composer in residence at Ars Nova.

In 2008, his family rock musical, The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks, based on the children’s book by Nancy McArthur, completed a summer run at the Lucille Lortel Theater, while his musical The Black Suits (with book by Iconis and Robert Maddock) was part of the Summer Play Festival which appeared at the Public Theater in July. Things to Ruin, the songs of Joe Iconis, has had a successful run at the Zipper Factory Theater this fall and will reopen at the Zipper in January.

As part of its 25th anniversary season, Urban Stages is presenting the world premiere of ReWrite, a musical comedy triple feature, with book, music and lyrics by Iconis, and with the composer at the piano. This witty and clever musical offers three one-act musicals on the theme of deadlines, both self-imposed and those imposed by outside forces. The three hilarious tales are linked in surprising ways that unify the evening. Not only are the stories entirely original with off-beat, unusual characters, the music melodic and catchy, but the smart lyrics are not fake Sondheim like the work of so many young lyricists/composers writing today. Iconis has a unique voice and something to say.

The tight, sharp production is directed by John Simpkins who has also participated in Iconis’ last three shows, as has choreographer Jennifer Werner, and many other members of the production team. The versatile cast of six who have roles in all three musicals have all appeared in previous shows by Iconis. This may be the beginning of a company of which memorable things may be expected in the future.

First up is “Nelson Rocks!,” a pop/rock musical in which Nelson Drucker, a high school nerd, plans to ask Jenny Vecharelli to the Junior Prom at 9:03 A.M. at the lockers in Lowe High. Besides his own hang ups, he may be thwarted by high school bully Ike McCauley, who has the same idea. As a clock on the wall ticks in real time, we see three versions of the events offering three possible endings. Nick Blaemire is endearing as hapless Nelson, while A.J. Shively is delightful as the arrogant Ike. Lauren Marcus plays a different version of Nelson’s dream girl Jenny in each of the variations. Jason “SweetTooth” Williams, the Voice on the Public Address system, sounds like the P.A. from everyone’s school experiences. Lorinda Lisitza is Mrs. Thurser, the slightly eccentric teacher that Nelson keeps running into, while Badia Farha plays Ashley, a classmate that Nelson has not noticed till now.

A.J. Shively and Lorinda Lisitza in “Miss Marzipan”
(Photo credit: Alex Koch)

The middle musical is called “Miss Marzipan.” A red-headed woman in a house dress frantically attempts to prepare a dinner party for a high school classmate she hasn’t seen in years who has since become a billionaire. The woman, who has remained single all these years, is famous for her marzipan, but can she finish her preparations before Big D arrives? And why does there appear to be a young man tied up to a chair in her pantry? This is a satire on the suburban experience gone haywire. Lisitza has all the needed cheerfulness of the ditzy housewife (who really isn’t one) while Shively is quite charming as the young man who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Blaemire puts in an appearance as Big D, a very Slick Dude, while Farha and Marcus follow him as two of his groupies. As the voice on the radio, Williams is again pitch-perfect.

Jason “SweetTooth” Williams, Joe Iconis at the piano, Badia Farha, Nick
Blaemire, A.J. Shively, Lauren Marcus and Lorinda Lisitza in “The Process”
(Photo credit: Alex Koch)

“The Process,” which is the concluding musical, is the most unusual in plot and form. This time the hero is Williams, a Writer with writer’s block who has a deadline to finish a musical by the following day. He has gone to a Dunkin Donuts to try to work through his process. The Girl Behind the Counter (Farha) tries to help him when he is beset by a former girl friend (Marcus) and a rock group, The Antagonists, that suddenly materializes from his nightmares (his mother, his producer, and Mick Jagger) that all have ideas about how he can finish his musical. It is the Girl Behind the Counter who finally solves his problem. Dressed identically by costume designer Michelle Eden Humphrey, Williams and Iconis give this sequence a surreal touch. We visually see two composer/writers on stage: the real one who wrote the material and the actor impersonating him. Both Farha and Marcus demonstrate a great deal of spirit as women with opposite opinions of the Writer. Blaemire, Lisitiza and Shively are hilarious (and entirely different than they were in the previous scenes) as the Writer’s nemesis in getting any work accomplished.

Simpkins has obtained three smart, distinctive characterizations from each actor. Video designer Alex Koch has masked the set changes with video projections of clocks and street scenes which mirror the theme of deadlines and time passing. Michael Schweikardt has cleverly solved the problem of the three completely different settings in the small space, while Humphrey has designed modern and attractive clothing for the various stories. Aside from Iconis’ sure touch at the piano, he is backed up by Arvi Sreenivasan on melodica, guitar and percussion. Although the orchestrations are a bit loud for the tiny theater, there is always a beautiful melody behind the arrangements.

ReWrite is the fourth musical from Joe Iconis to debut in New York since July. This clever, witty show is also one of the few new musicals in recent years to be entirely original, and avoid adapting a Hollywood film, a Broadway play or a classic novel. The bright lyrics demonstrate that Iconis has a language of his own and his music has a contemporary beat. His characters of various ages from high school to middle age are both believable and endearing. His usual director John Simpkins has staged a simple but splendid production which allows the work to speak for itself. The cast of six, all veterans of previous shows by Iconis, demonstrate their versatility with three disparate roles each. If you are a devotee of musical theater, do not miss this show. ReWrite represents the beginning of a notable career by some very talented newcomers.

ReWrite (through January 3)

Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or http://www.SmartTix.com

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