Review by Sheila Watko
A New York City musical tradition, Joe Iconis & Family is currently in the midst of its spring run at Feinstein’s/54 Below. On Tuesday, April 30, the cast of 23 performers performed 15 songs, and this evening was particularly special. Earlier in the day, Tony nominations had been announced and we learned that Joe Iconis is nominated for Best Original Score as writer of Be More Chill!
All songs and lyrics in a Joe Iconis & Family show are written by Iconis himself, and, along with a band, he accompanies each performance on the piano. Iconis’ Family (always with a capital F) is a wildly talented group of performers, musicians, writers, producers, and collaborators. The Family varies at each performance, as does the set list, so no two shows are the same. The concerts are produced by Jennifer Ashley Tepper with horn arrangements by Josh Plotner and Charlie Rosen, string arrangements by Plotner, and vocal arrangements by Joel Waggoner.
A handful of the Family members – including the band – were still at Be More Chill when the concert started, so Iconis kicked things off with an acoustic performance of his beloved song written for NBC’s Smash, “Broadway, Here I Come.” This song is always gorgeous, but it felt even more special than usual when sung by Iconis himself on the night of his Tony nomination. Iconis advised us to listen to the lyrics of his songs throughout the concert because many of them tell standalone stories, including Liz Lark Brown’s comedic yet surprisingly touching performance of “Velociraptor,” bemoaning the struggles of dating as a single female dinosaur in Manhattan. Iconis introduced the next song by telling the audience he likes writing music inspired by horror movies before welcoming Lance Rubin to the stage with “Norman,” a delightfully creepy piece about a man who enjoys spying on a woman named Marion. Rubin stayed onstage and was joined by Molly Hager for “Anymore,” a beautifully sad number about the slow end of a relationship, or perhaps something that wasn’t quite a relationship but was indeed more than a friendship.
By this point, the remaining cast members had joined and the party really got started. Iconis strolled across the room to order a whiskey at the bar in preparation for “Whiskey Song,” a catchy, feel-good drinking song that turned into a huge chorus number with the entire audience clapping along. It’s hard to choose a favorite performance of the night, but Katrina Rose Dideriksen and Eric William Morris’ “Right Place/Wrong Time” had a country tinge to it, which was completely unexpected in the best way. Its storyline was relatable with a crazy twist at the end, and Dideriksen and Morris pulled it all off flawlessly. Of course a Be More Chill song was in order for the evening, but I would never have guessed the rendition we received: swing Morgan Siobhan Green’s take on “The Pants Song,” which was exceedingly charming.
Lauren Marcus took the stage for “Adore,” from The Hunter S. Thompson Musical. Marcus broke our hearts with the ballad, then shocked us all as the tempo picked up and the rest of the women in the cast joined her onstage for a powerful finish. This is something I love about Iconis’ music: so much of it is female-driven and empowering to women. And speaking of empowering women, his upcoming off-Broadway musical Broadway Bounty Hunter comes to the Greenwich House Theater this summer. It tells the story of an aging actress who gets a job as a bounty hunter, and we were treated to three songs from the show, performed by Annie Golden, Alan H. Green, and Christina Sajous. If these songs are an indication of how the rest of the musical will sound, I’m buying tickets ASAP. As seems to be tradition for any Iconis concert, Jason SweetTooth Williams closed the show with “The Goodbye Song,” a cast and crowd favorite written for Smash.
I mentioned that Iconis found out he had been nominated for a Tony the morning of this performance. However, he and the rest of the Be More Chill cast had also learned that the musical itself did not receive a nomination. Tepper wrote on social media that scheduling a concert the night of Tony nomination announcements had been her idea months ago, “so that no matter what, at the end of the day, we’re singing our songs together.” And it was a perfect idea. The evening reminded us that the heart of musical theater doesn’t lie with a statuette or a committee, but in connecting through memorable melodies, well-written lyrics, creative characters, fascinating stories, and the power of Family.
Don’t miss your chance to see the Tony-nominated Iconis, a musical theater legend in the making, and his phenomenal Family in this spectacular show. You can catch Joe Iconis & Family at Feinstein’s/54 Below through the end of the month. Though tonight’s performance is sold out, future shows on Sunday, May 12th at 7:00pm and Sunday, May 26th at 9:30pm still have a few tickets available (at least for now).
Photos: Sheila Watko
Next show dates: May 6 (7:00pm), May 12 (7:00pm), and May 26 (9:30pm) at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th St between Eighth Avenue and Broadway)