Iconis-ography


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When it comes to musical theater, some people are ultra-traditionalists who melt into convulsions of pain at the thought of rock music supporting narrative, and they often resemble the worst of the tortured at Abu Ghraib whenever near, missed or false rhymes desecrate their ears. Fortunately, then, for Joe Iconis—a songwriter who understands the sound of rock inside and out, who can cleanly rhyme and whose ReWrite is a bitchin’ triptych of one-act pop/rock musicals—there are a rising number of ultra-nontraditionalists who will melt into convulsions over anything on a stage offering an alternative to the usual dah-dah-dah-dah of musical theater.


Produced by Urban Stages, directed by John Simpkins and choreographed by Jennifer Werner, ReWrite is an unapologetically personal affair: The final piece, called "The Process," concerns a blocked musical theater writer named Joe (Jason “SweetTooth” Williams) and the sassy Dunkin’ Donuts counter girl (Badia Farha) who badgers and bullies him to an emotional breakthrough, thus allowing him to write a musical about something with fabric and resonance, something real and touching.


But all along it is abundantly clear that Iconis has a reservoir of emotions from which to draw and an iconoclastic voice with which to channel them. The first piece, called “Nelson Rocks,” is a sympathetic portrait of a gawky teenager of that name (Nick Blaemire) who yearns to ask the hottest chick in school, Jenny Veccharelli (Lauren Marcus), to the prom. Sure, you’ve seen it all before—how the cocksure jock, here oddly named Ike (A.J. Shively), mocks Nelson and almost clocks him to make sure that Jenny goes to the dance with him instead.


However, what makes the scene interesting—beyond a guffaw-worthy cameo by an over-caffeinated teacher (Lorinda Lisitza)—is that it’s played three times, each scene growing tighter, leaner and meaner, each time more demanding of our attention. Given that the evening’s title is ReWrite, you might fear the following two pieces will turn the whole enterprise into a Groundhog Day meets Square Pegs netherworld, but nothing of the sort occurs. Indeed, Square Pegs would never have an ending as unique and surprisingly poignant as the one in which a girl far nice than Jenny not only makes Nelson’s day but helps him understand the innumerable ways in which he rocks.


Iconis asks a great deal of his actors, what with a dizzying hurly-burly of melismas, key changes, songs that begin and end abruptly or operate in fragments and a playful twists in the storylines as common as all the genital jokes and scatological humor. But Simpkins expects just as much—if the actors aren’t moving an element of Michael Schweikardt’s sleek and modular set, they’re being absorbed in the abstract fantasia of Alex Koch’s video design. One criticism, though: Craig’s Kaufman’s sound design only needs to fill this moderate-sized theater, not amp up Marilyn Manson at Madison Square Garden.


The middle piece, called “Miss Marzipan,” is the most daring. Here Lisitza, trading broadly on her pop eyes, plays a frumpy, middle-aged loser who, by quirk of fate, is set to have a date with a fellow from high school. He’s a CEO now, and she’s desperate to kindle some flame with him. She’s so desperate that she abducts an aimless, shiftless young man (Shively), ties him to a chair and shoves him into a closet, thinking he’ll somehow cooperate and play her imaginary son when her special guest arrives. Aside from her confession that she can only cook marzipan (huh?), what these misbegotten misfits discover about themselves is equally macabre and wonderful. Especially since Miss Marzipan turns out to be Jenny Veccharelli, who first broke Nelson’s heart and who, in Iconis’ best trick of the night, even plays a role in that transformational final scene.


Through Dec. 21. Urban Stages,  259 W. 30th St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.), 212-868-4444;
times vary, $40.




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