A rousing night of fan favorites and new songs from ‘Joe Iconis & Family’ at NYC’s 54 Below

The return of Joe Iconis & Family to their home-away-from-home at 54 Below for a five-night engagement through Saturday features a changing line-up of over three dozen of the prolific Tony-nominated virtuoso composer, lyricist, librettist, and performer’s extended circle of incredibly talented musical theater colleagues and collaborators presenting the biggest and best concert yet of his fan-favorite classics, latest numbers, and works-in-progress, in a blockbuster cabaret series celebrating the upcoming vinyl release by Ghostlight Records of Album on Friday, August 18, following its 2022 debut in streaming and digital formats.

Now available for pre-order, the special five-LP box set includes a sixteen-page booklet with complete lyrics, artwork, and design by Rob Carmichael and photography by Marques Walls, and 45 tracks – from such trailblazing Iconis musicals as Be More Chill (with Joe Tracz), Love in Hate Nation, Broadway Bounty Hunter (with Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams), and the upcoming The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, along with stand-alone numbers and his hit song “Broadway, Here I Come!” from Season 2 of NBC’s Smash – performed by more than 70 members of the Iconis family.

Last night’s spectacular live and in-person show at the intimate supper club contained a selection of fifteen of his original songs, with little of the usual between-song banter that the loquacious Iconis is known for, because there were a lot of numbers and family members to fit into the dynamic 80 minutes. Kicking off the concert was Iconis with the title song of “Album” – an autobiographical paean to the connection with music and the enduring feelings it generates – laughing, making eye contact with the audience, and joined by the harmonious cast for the final chorus. Then he did take a moment to remind us to pay special attention to the lyrics of his works, and with good reason.

Joe Iconis. Photo by Deb Miller.

As a creator of musical theater, each of his songs relays a narrative journey told by a developed character, and each of the empathetic performers – Jeremy Morse, Liz Lark Brown, Jason SweetTooth Williams, Lance Rubin, Core Four, Nick Blaemire, Lorinda Lisitza, Lauren Marcus, Eric William Morris, Morgan Siobhan Green, Jeannette Bayardelle, George Salazar, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, and Jared Weiss on the date I attended, backed by Iconis on piano and a top-notch band (including long-time family members Mike Rosengarten on electric guitar and Rob Rokicki on synth) – fully embodied the quirky outsider misfit personalities to perfection and made us understand who they were, what they thought, and how they felt, with their inextricable combination of masterful acting skills and expressive vocals.

The cast. Photo by Deb Miller.

The songs encompassed a variety of musical genres and stories, from hilarious to heartfelt ballads of love and longing, murder and antipathy, and a punk-rock anthem, to triggered memories, recognition of the impermanence of life, and the ties that live on forever – the underlying sentiment of the Iconis family. Morse brought the laughs (and his lively tap dancing) to the silly and risqué “Andy’s Song” inspired by the 2005 movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin (in a failed attempt to turn it into a stage musical), as did Brown to “Saddest Girl in the World,” Williams to “The Song,” Rubin to “Norman,” Blaemire to “Kevin,” and Lisitza to “Ammonia” – all sidesplitting in their characterizations and deliveries.

Lauren Marcus. Photo by Ray Costello.

The mood then shifted with Marcus’s impassioned first-time on-stage rendition of “Out of Sight/Out of Mind,” completely in tune with the vintage jazz-stylings of the band; Morris and Green’s affecting duet on “Lovesong of Blood” from the spaghetti-western musical Bloodsong of Love, which hadn’t been presented live for thirteen years; and Dideiksen’s shift from down tempo to full-out punk on “Lisa” from the rock musical The Black Suits, about a high-school garage band.

There were also two numbers from The Untitled Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, about the eponymous counter-culture journalist, which will have its world premiere this August-October at California’s La Jolla Playhouse: “Jann Wenner,” featuring the powerhouse voice of Bayardelle, backed by Core Four; and “Song of the Brown Buffalo,” expressing the radical perspective of Mexican-American activist and writer Oscar Acosta, brilliantly sung and inhabited by the sensational Salazar, who will appear in the original cast of the debut production.

George Salazar. Photo by Deb Miller.

Rounding out the outstanding set were the reflective “Haddonfield, 15 Years Later,” beautifully sung by Weiss, and “Find the Bastard” from Bloodsong of Love, featuring Morris on country-western-style lead vocal and guitar. The concert appropriately concluded with Williams’ ever-stirring performance of “The Goodbye Song,” from the Hunter Thompson Musical, which was overflowing with heart, profound emotion, and a shared feeling of never-ending love and bonding that made everyone there a part of it.

Jason SweetTooth Williams. Photo by Deb Miller.

Through it all, the stellar cast moved on and off the stage and around the house, delivering the rich tight harmonies and crescendos and creating a sense of inclusion. Colorful lighting and party decorations enhanced the spirit of fun, joy, and celebration of music, theater, and a close-knit chosen family.

You have three more nights to catch this blowout concert of Joe Iconis & Family, so don’t blow it – be sure to get your tickets now, while you still can!

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.

Joe Iconis & Family plays through Saturday, June 17, 2023, at 7 pm (doors open at 5:30), at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. For tickets (priced at $50-120, plus fees, and a $25 food and beverage minimum per person), call (646) 476-3551, go online. Masks are not required.


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