2018 New York Musical Festival
“Emojiland” takes place inside a smartphone, in a digital mini-world peopled with emojis, and its hero looks about the way you’d think: like an undiluted dweeb — though, since this is a pop musical, the chartreuse frames on his glasses are kind of fabulous.
“My name’s Nerd Face,” he says, and with a jolt of laughter from the audience, our hero has arrived. A newcomer to Emojiland, Nerd Face was installed with the latest update. And the moment he spies Smize — that’s short for Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes, and she’s not as happy as she seems — the show fizzes with rom-com effervescence.
Of the three full productions at the center of the New York Musical Festival this past week, “Emojiland” (closes Sunday, July 22, at the Acorn Theater at Theater Row) is the most charmingly silly fun. It is also, surprisingly yet subtly enough, the most politically resonant. (The festival continues through Aug. 5, with six more full productions to come.)
With book, music and lyrics by the married team of Keith Harrison, who makes a darling Nerd Face, and Laura Nicole Harrison, who is a winning Smize, it’s about a society that builds a wall to keep newcomers out, only to discover that the menace to its survival already lurks within.
The wall is a firewall, actually, its construction ordered by the bossy, baby-voiced Princess (the Olivier Award-winning Lesli Margherita, a daffy blast to watch), who’s been feeling threatened ever since the update abruptly added a Prince (Josh Lamon, ditto) to the realm. They fear that future updates could further dilute their power.
Directed by Thomas Caruso against a backdrop of clever projections (by Lisa Renkel), “Emojiland” takes too long in the windup, introducing us to its world. And while the costumes (by Sarah Zinn) and makeup (by Chloe Fox) add to the show’s frivolity, the looks of the many characters in this cast of 12 aren’t always distinctive enough to communicate which familiar emojis they are.
There’s no trouble, however, picking Pile of Poo out of the crowd. Played with panache by Jessie Alagna, she gets a nice solo, too — in the bathroom.
The Police Officer (Angela Wildflower) and Construction Worker (Megan Kane) have an important story line, and though it may be a shade too developed for the overall balance of the show, it lets the authors make a case for integrity as a basic social value. “I know what I stand for,” the Construction Worker sings, resisting the wall.
Even when things get dark in Emojiland, some of its people stay brave — and, when doom seems imminent, they fight to reset what’s gone tragically wrong. From an energetic little musical, that’s a lesson for our time.
Broadway for Black Lives Matter
An awareness concert called "Broadway for Black Lives Matter" took place Monday night at Columbia University. Broadway stars, poets, and other musicians gathered to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the end to police brutality. Approximately 1,000 people registered for the free show co-sponsored by Columbia Law School and The Broadway for Black Lives Matter Collective.
— NBC BLK (@NBCBLK) August 2, 2016
Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell began the show by thanking the "pack of youngins" who made the evening possible.
— NBC BLK (@NBCBLK) August 2, 2016
"This evening is a result of activism, of a desire to do something," McDonald said.
McDonald and some of the other organizers have spent the last several months performing in a show called "Shuffle Along." She said that while doing that show, she and the other cast members witnessed the many disturbing acts in the present day world, and saw a need to amplify the voice for the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Amber Iman was one of those "Shuffle Along" cast members, and she posted a Facebook status in early July urging the conscious Broadway community to finally speak out for black lives.
Iman's Facebook status sparked Broadway to action, and less than a month later this showcase came to fruition.
The lineup was diverse, but all united in using their platform to encourage more discussion, action, and education.
Ledisi and India Arie were two of the headliners of the night.
Joshua Henry, who has been cast as Aaron Burr in Hamilton Chicago, performed Langston Hughes' "The Kids Who Die" to a moved crowd.
Damon K. Jones, the New York State Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America spoke about the dichotomy of being a black police officer. He spoke about incidents of black off-duty police officers being shot by white cops.
"We feel the racism in the police department," Jones said, "And we get it both ways."
Norm Lewis, who you may know as Senator Edison Davis from "Scandal," sat on the same panel with Jones, and contrasted the changing perception of police in America.
"I remember growing up that being a lawyer, being a doctor, being a policeman, and being a firechief, were really respected professions and they would come and speak to you at your schools," Lewis said. "And I just don't feel that respect anymore from the police. There seems to be no accountability."
Professor Frank Roberts gave context to the Black Lives Matter Movement. He teaches a course entitled, "Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Popular Protest" at New York University. He underscored that Black Lives Matter is a human rights movement that cuts into the existential question, which is, who gets to be counted as human?
Roberts said that the final characteristic of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is that it is an artistic endeavor.
"Artists have already been an important part of this story and of this movement," Roberts said. "The question is not how can we get artists involved in this movement, it's recognizing their centrality right now and already."
Overall, the audience left energized, and in alignment with its intended mission to "spark conversation and encourage people to discover their roles as active participants in a movement towards positive change."
STAGES THEATRE COMPANY
A Musical Tribute to Black American Influence on Performing Arts