ReWrite: The Art of Making Art
When should an artist separate himself from his creation and let it stand on its own? Or is all art really about the artist? How much self-indulgence is too much in art?
These questions--and more--won't be answered by Joe Iconis' musical triptych ReWrite, currently running at Urban Stages, but they may be raised. Although seemingly disconnected, the three musicals that comprise the 90-minute production are brought together in a discussion of art, artists and artistry that seems lifted from Sunday in the Park With George or the "Die, Vampire, Die" scene from [title of show].
Which is not to say that ReWrite is a ponderous, philosophical musical--far from it, in fact. The first two scenes are charming and enjoyable comedies about the connections we make between one another and between our realities and our dreams. (And somehow, it still manages to be funny. Cheers to Mr. Iconis for that feat.) In the first scene, high school geek Nelson struggles to get up the nerve to ask out the hottest girl in school, imagining several different outcomes to his actions. In the second, a lonely woman works to create her Norman Rockwell-esque ideal family, in a darkly hilarious manner.
But in the third scene, the mood takes a turn for the deeper, focusing on a composer and playwright named Joe (sound familiar?) struggling to create something new and connect with the people around him. And it is this scene, which should be the most emotionally satisfying, that proves the weakest of the three.
Throughout the first and third scenes, Iconis himself is seated at a piano at center stage. (In the second, he is off to the side, but still visible.) The rest of the very apt band is kept offstage. It is the accumulation of these details—having Mr. Iconis center stage while the rest of the musicians are kept hidden, having the third scene focus on a musical theatre composer with the same name—that make this show All About Joe, rather than about the loftier themes that permeate the humor.
But here’s the funny part: It still works, for the most part. While ReWrite treads the line between ego-trip and quirk-fest, it does so with plenty of wit and heart. Joe Iconis is one of musical theatre’s most promising rising stars, and if ReWrite is somewhat self-indulgent, so are many artistic endeavors. If Iconis’ score for this show isn’t his strongest work (really, it’s more of a play with music), his book nicely captures the tragic humor of everyday life.
The cast, many of whom have worked on other Joe Iconis projects, give energetic and fun performances, with Lorinda Lisitza as a standout even in smaller roles. When she plays the titular figure in the second scene, “Miss Marzipan,” she mixes manic energy with poignant loneliness that makes her character one of the deepest and most memorable of the show. Nick Blaemire is endearingly winsome as Nelson in the first scene, and Lauren Marcus does some lovely work playing two distinct but surprisingly similar characters in both the first and third scenes. A.J. Shively gets to run the largest gamut of emotions as a school bully in the first scene, a nihilist in the second and Mick Jagger in the third. (No, I’m serious.) Badia Farha isn’t given much to do in her brief third scene role as a jaded and philosophical Dunkin Donuts employee, but she sings very well and scores some laughs with her wonderful dry delivery. After performing voiceovers in the first two scenes, Jason “Sweet Tooth” Williams does some fine work as Mr. Iconis’ alter ego in the third, playing the straight man to the insanity of his own nagging insecurities.
John Simpkins, who has directed other Iconis projects and has helmed several brilliant productions at New York University, keeps the energy up throughout the disparate scenes , but doesn’t reach the emotional depths that his other projects have. And perhaps that comes back to the writing: When the show itself revels too much in its own concept, it’s hard to reach the emotional depths that a stronger show could have.