When you find yourself under Joe Iconis’s spell
It’s wild what notions your mind will compel
In the annals of bad ideas, this will rank very high
But fuck it — gonna write this, and my good sense defy.
Joe’s a 26-year-old boy from Long Island, and me —
A frustrated lyricist who wants you to see
The theory that Joe may have Broadway’s answers
Or at least, a reason to hire stagehands and dancers.
Where I’m woefully weak at this, Joe is sublime;
As good as Herr Sondheim or dead Hammerstein —
Those idols inspired that quite-fertile brain
Into sweet lyrics and songs, chorus and refrain.
“The Black Suits isn’t my story, but close,”
Joe says over coffee, that day’s second dose.
It’s the first day of rehearsal; I’m searching for clues
As to why his four-year-old musical might be news.
But then, moments later, I remember the reason;
His music’s so gorgeous, to ignore would be treason
What began at NYU as a graduate school thesis
Has become cause to praise God and thank Jesus.
Joe’s got black hair, thick and thatched in good measure
And a smile that reveals his extreme sense of pleasure
That at long last, next week, Joe’s show-stopping songs
Will be onstage at the Public Theater, where they belong.
The Black Suits tells the story of a high school garage band
Don’t think it’s predictable; your doubts will be damned.
It explores the way kids think their lives are so rad
That their choices, their music, their dreams can go bad.
It’s not like Chorus Line, Passing Strange or Rent
At the curtain you won’t see your flaws, and repent
Don’t expect Joe to fix anything, solve anything, please!
He’s just a dude with an ear for a tune, and 88 keys.
Did he like Spring Awakening? It blew Joe away.
How about In The Heights? “I don’t want to say.”
At age five, he found Little Shop of Horrors so wild
That he wanted to leave audiences just as beguiled.
But it wasn’t till later that true inspiration appeared
In Robert Altman’s Nashville, a film Joe revered
Its overlapping dialogue, its intricate themes
Gave Joe the guts to follow his own crazy dreams.
When he reached NYU, he soared fast, no surprise —
And it didn’t take long for his profs to realize
That sweet little Joe deserved agents and fame
From the first day of classes, they knew he got game.
Awards came his way, to reward his strong promise
But behind every smile lay fresh backstage dramas
They can love you, yet hold back the chance of success
It’s Development Hell, with no chance of egress.
So it was with a group called the MCC Theater
The Black Suits caught their eye (you still with me, dear reader?)
They scheduled rehearsals, some workshops, that shit
‘Cause they figured they had hold of a big fat Broadway hit
Months and months were devoted — no wait, make that years
As Joe and his actors put aside their careers
For readings and stagings and meetings devoted
To a process that to you and me might seem a bit bloated
And then it turned out — those jerks missed the point;
They canceled the play, tossed him out of their joint.
So poor Joe was left in the lurch, as it were
With nothing, no show — just his own cris de couer.
Armed only with outrage and a ballad or three
Joe took to the Internet, folks who download for free
In no time the you’s of YouTube took a liking
And Iconis discovered his page views were spiking.
Now this is where it gets kind of insane
Because who ever heard of a musical born on the wane?
But that’s exactly what happened; in fact
The Black Suits came back as written, and intact
“It’s just how I wrote it now,” Joe says with pride
And not an ill word will he utter to deride
Those who would have blocked his singular vision.
No, sir, not even a gently mocking admonition.
Nope, all that is past, and the last laugh is Joe’s –
And the show will go on with the actors he chose.
In the front row on opening night, Lucille and Artie
(Yes his parents) will join in, and swing by the cast party.
And what will be next? That’s the question we wonder
Will The Black Suits move to Broadway or be torn asunder?
“Let’s just take it slow,” is Val Day’s sage advice
She’s his agent at William Morris, yet surprisingly nice.
Take it slow? Those aren’t words Joe would choose;
He closes his eyes at night, and sees Broadway reviews.
While others have visions of sugar plums dancing inside
Joe’s head has a picture of Ben Brantley, smiling wide.
So anyway, people, you’re probably wondering…
Why all the rhymes? Why is Blum blundering?
Stop all this Seussiness — show me, you demand!
Let me hear Joe Iconis and his wonderful band!
Well, I’m sorry to tell you, the show’s all sold out
(I know, yes I know, it’s a bummer, don’t pout)
But if Broadway producers end up filling the seats
Then there’s always a chance for performance repeats.
Meanwhile, there’s YouTube, and a boatload of links
Or his nightclub act (where you can also buy drinks)
Otherwise, let’s hope that a producer takes a gander
And that his name is Weinstein, or at least Nederlander.
JOE ICONIS: THE DETAILS
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
Iconis grew up in Garden City, Long Island, and graduated from New York University, and also he completed its Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts. He is the 2006 winner of the Jonathan Larson Award—named for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rent—and in 2007 won the Ed Kleban Award for lyricists, which comes with a $100,000 prize. His other shows include Things To Ruin and Plastic: The Musical.
THE BLACK SUITS
The Joe Iconis musical The Black Suits—with music and lyrics by Iconis, and a book co-written with Robert Maddock—runs for eight performances, beginning July 1, at the Public Theater under the auspices of the Summer Play Festival. It stars Nick Blaemire, Lance Rubin, Jason Tam, Jason Williams and Annie Golden, with John Simpkins directing. The entire run from July 1 through July 6 is sold out.
THE PLANT THAT ATE DIRTY SOCKS
On July 16, another Iconis musical—The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks—begins performances at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street, produced by Theatreworks USA. The cast includes Jason Williams and Lance Rubin and is also directed by John Simpkins. Performances continue through
August 22; for complete details visit www.theatreworksusa.org.
WORDS & MUSIC BY JOE ICONIS
Joe Iconis frequently appears in a nightclub format as “Joe Iconis and Friends” and has appearances scheduled at the Laurie Beechman Theater (also known as the basement performance space of the West Bank Café on West 42nd Street) in July 20, August 4, September 28 and October 28. He’ll also be onstage at Joe’s Pub on August 4, performing his own songs.
For free downloads of four Iconis songs, visit his MySpace page under the name “Joe Iconis Music.” For reviews, a blog, photos, reviews and assorted commentary, go to www.mrjoeiconis.com.