As for musicals, he wishes to see the end to “jukeboxes,” the ones that doesn’t challenge and simply derive from the “Motown catalogue.” Also deplorable is the constant importing of “star power” to Broadway. To ensure the play or musical’s commercial success, producers have been relying on celebrity to draw audiences. “The theatergoer spends so much money to have a night at the theater and now expect not only to see great theater but Tom Hanks or Katie Holmes or another famous person in a show.” And now, the appearance of a “movie or television celebrity” is no longer even enough. “Kaity Holmes’s last play closed prematurely,” the musical writer observes. “Well of course, it did! People already saw her in a play!”
While the composer appreciates that the cost of putting a show on Broadway has increased tremendously, he also believes “it’s a vicious cycle” that results in the “dumbing down” and “numbing of audiences” thus making it more and more difficult to mount work with actual substance on a Broadway stage.
These notwithstanding, Iconis believes that commercial Broadway is “beginning to turn a corner” in recognizing plays like “Next to Normal” and “Once.” He states that these types of shows make “small musicals with theater actors more palatable.”
But isn’t giving the audience what it wants a prerequisite to writing a play or musical?
Not so, says Iconis. “I write what I want to write and …(while) I am always conscious that there will be an audience experiencing my work….that never affects the content of what I’m writing.” He goes on to state that the main purpose of his music is solely to communicate an idea to his audience. “As long as they understand what I’m doing, then I don’t care. If they get it, great. If they don’t? Oh well.”
While he is mindful that occasionally specific adjustments are necessary to make (like when writing a children’s musical for example), he regards those types of adaptations as more done out of “common sense” and not artistic sense.
Joe reasons, “I have a very specific sensibility. I like to be challenged but also to entertain. (But) I never like to force people into having a specific reaction. I just like to put the material out there and let people make up their own minds.”
It’s for the same reason Joe Iconis regards Bloodsong of Love as an important piece in his body of work. “It’s very much about a family of artists trying to maintain integrity in a world that values dollars over art.”
He says he would like to believe that someone who had seen Once then thought, “Hey that show was weird. I’ve never really heard music like that before but it was cool! Next show I see will be another ‘weird’ one with no (famous) actors and new music!” But what about him? What would Joe Iconis like to see next? “Production of our musicals. That’s it.”
And success? When would he know he has finally reached the place in the sky his rising star is supposed to ascend to? What is his own measure of success? What statement might a person say to him that would indicate that he has really made it?
His response: “This meal is on the house, Mr. Iconis.”
Broadway, Here I come! may sound like a fitting tribute, but the lyrics do not perfectly align with where Joe Iconis and his music truly stand. For the many who know Joe and his music, the lyric that‘s better suited is from The Goodbye Song, another Iconis classic. Thankfully for the music world, the reality is-- Joe Iconis is already right here. Forever.
But isn’t having a long-running Broadway show the epitome of a musical composer’s theatrical success? Isn’t this perhaps what everyone is waiting for him to do, that step that allows him to go from “rising star” to a fully fledged one?
Photo by Monica Simoes
Joe doesn’t entirely agree. Because “success,” he offers, “can be defined in so many ways…Some people would regard me as “successful” and sometimes I can’t pay my rent. The world of musical theater is so weird and insular. It’s all in the eye of the beholder anyway, so who knows?”
Half jokingly he enumerates some markers for success: having a show on Broadway that he cares about, being financially stable, having family and friends to keep close to him, a year of free dinners at favorite restaurants, free hats from Goorin Brothers, etc.
To the viewer/listener Iconis’s “Broadway, Here I Come!” appears to summarize neatly the entire plot of SMASH. But for those working, living and breathing theater, it’s a bit more personal. It alludes to the many terrifying leaps of faith, the many painful falls, the intoxicating rush of being at the top of stardom, and questioning whether each twist and turn in pursuing that dream really means anything at all.
Photos Courtesy of Joe Iconis
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