BWW Review: New Faces of 2020 Threaten The Status Quo in EMOJILAND
Lesli Margherita and Ann Harada give star turns in a lively production
Obviously, it would be foolish to expect anything resembling high art from a musical comedy titled Emojiland, which not only attaches bodies to those expressive emotion-summarizing faces from social media and texting but brings them to singing-and-dancing life. But even shows that aspire to little more than silly junk-food fun should be sprinkled with some degree of cleverness.
Sure, there are some chuckles to be had reading the musical's credits, where Lucas Steele's billing is bordered by a half-dozen clapping hands, the words "Her Royal Highness" are set above Lesli Margherita's name and a box surrounds the proclamation "Featuring a Special Appearance by Ann Harada." But director Thomas Caruso's lively production, featuring a terrific ensemble of players and some funny and colorful design elements, is continually bogged down by the flavorless book and pop score by collaborators Keith Harrison and Laura Schein.
Designers David Goldstein (set), Jamie Roderick (lights), and the combo of Lisa Renkel and Possible Productions (projections) create a sense-bombarding playing space representing the inner workings of a smartphone, where all emojis are ruled by the self-involved Princess, played by Margherita in one of her hilarious tongue-in-cheek diva turns; this one heartily spoofing the likes of Lady Gaga and Madonna.
Residents include perpetually perky Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes (Schein), who doesn't know that her slick and sexy guy Smiling Face With Sunglasses (Jacob Dickey) has been fooling around with the flirtatious Kissy Face (Heather Makalani). A happier relationship seems to be enjoyed by Construction Worker (Natalie Weiss) and Police Officer (Felicia Boswell).
But new faces are expected to arrive with this year's system upgrade and the status quo has been upset by the arrival of the earnestly informative Nerd Face (George Abud) and the flamboyantly styled Prince (Josh Lamon).
Under the advice of Man In Business Suit Levitating (Max Crumm, spending the whole show riding a hoverboard), Princess decides they must build a firewall to keep out virus-carrying foreigners, but the land has already been infiltrated by the sinisterly gothic Skull (Steele).
The "Special Appearance by Ann Harada" has the popular musical comedy star playing Pile Of Poo. This is indeed a guest-starring turn, as she has one line in the beginning of Act I and isn't seen again until her one major scene in Act II, where her precision deadpan delivery makes the most of a pile of bad puns ("Sometimes I can't help butting in.") before belting an inspirational anthem about remembering that "Who you are's what you do / When life hands you a pile of poo."
Though the satirical aspect of the plot has potential, Emojiland is just too blandly written to sustain itself through its two hours plus running time. But the cast jumps in with gusto, and thanks to Vanessa Leuck's make-up designs and Bobbie Zlotnik's hair/wig designs everyone nicely resembles their virtual alter egos from the neck up. Leuck's smart cartoon costumes take care of the rest.