Bloodsong of Love: The Good, The Bad and The Showtunes

by Michael Dale

The hero of Joe Iconis' kick-ass new musical, Bloodsong Of Love (billed as "The Rock 'n' Roll Spaghetti Western"), has relatively simple goals. As expressed in the most direct musical theatre "I Want" song of the season, he declares, "Gonna find the bastard / Get my woman back / And be with her again beneath the setting sun."

On his way to doing so (Damn, did I just give away the ending? Maybe.) the man known only as The Musician (a terrifically stony-faced Eric William Morris) centers a wildly funny, happily tuneful, and graphically bloody pocket-sized musical that regularly threatens to burst beyond the small Ars Nova stage. (Plastic ponchos are distributed to patrons in the first few rows as protection against the globs of blood that actually do burst beyond the stage.)

Like the Charleses Ludlam and Busch, composer/lyricist/bookwriter Joe Iconis (Things To Ruin, ReWrite, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks) has been assembling a steady roster of artists particularly deft at his brand of quirky fun and contemporary attitude wrapped around a well-crafted musical theatre core. Director John Simpkins is a regular collaborator and the entire Bloodsong cast, along with most of the production team, have all worked on at least one of his previous projects. From what I've noticed about his audiences, the growing Iconis fan base includes a good deal of young people who can love Sondheim and Comden & Green along with today's chart-topping pop artists, and while his newest musical spoofs the low-budget, Italian and Spanish-made 1960s films depicting the old American west, he gently slides in a few subtle musical theatre references which would go unnoticed by the unschooled.

"See, nobody speaks our language anymore and every pint of blood is served with a sidecar of irony," laments Jason 'SweetTooth' Williams, great fun as the philosophical rock 'n' roll narrator. Certainly there's no irony evident in the deadpan seriousness with which the passionate Santa Violetta (the very funny MK Lawson) seduces The Musician while cleaning a fish, erotically (?) ripping out and splattering its innards.

But soon after the couple is wed, the bastardly Lo Cocodrilo (hilariously high-pitched and over-the-top Jeremy Morse), a legendary entertainer ("His kazoo-ing prowess was matched only by his ruthlessness."), kidnaps Violetta, sending The Musician off to find her, armed with a blood-red guitar made from the wood of a great tree that was nourished from her virginal blood when they made love in an open field. With that guitar he plays a song so beautiful it breaks people's hearts and kills them. ("That's gonna fuck my album sales terrible.")

Lance Rubin gives an endearing turn as The Musician's slow-witted, tambourine-playing sidekick, Banana, and Katrina Rose Dideriksen belts the blazes out of her trio of roles, most notably a character named Whore in Boots. In a nutty bit of business, Williams also scores as a one-eyed barkeep who can't quite pour his liquor directly into the glass.

While the two-hour evening is frequently enormous fun, the gags occasionally have trouble sustaining themselves on the thin and episodic plot. Fortunately, Iconis' breezy twangy-rock score, sounding great via music director Matt Hinkley's five piece band, always pleases.

Director Simpkins establishes a tongue firmly in cheek tone where the characters go through their silly antics with the utmost seriousness. Michelle Eden Humphrey's costumes and Chris Dallos' lights help establish a rock-dive-meets-old-west saloon feel and Michael Schweikardt manages to fit a clever and atmospheric set onto a small space. While Simpkins and choreographer Jennifer Werner impressively stage lively visuals in the cramped quarters, hopefully it won't be long before they're given the opportunity to show what they can do with Bloodsong of Love in a larger, higher-profile location.

Photos by Peter James Zielinski: Top: MK Lawson and Eric William Morris; Bottom: Eric William Morris, MK Lawson, Jeremy Morse (above), Jason 'SweetTooth' Williams, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Lance Rubin.


Congratulations to Peter Mills for being awarded this year's Kleban Prize as Most Promising Musical Theater Lyricist. Now how about somebody promising to get one of his and Cara Reichel's terrific musicals on Broadway?

Follow Michael Dale on Twitter at michaeldale.

After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.