Review: Emojiland The Musical - Off Broadway - Duke on 42nd Street
It is hard to imagine life these days without dearly beloved ways to text our feelings without saying any words – grinning with sweat (😅), beaming with smiley eyes (😁), or slightly frowning with open mouth feeling dizzy vomiting (🙁😮🤮). Luckily, Keith Harrison and Laura Schein provide an outlet for these feelings in Emojiland The Musical, which opened recently off-Broadway, at the Duke on 42nd Street.
Together since Version 1.0, Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes a.k.a. Smize (😊, Laura Schien) and Smiling Face with Sunglasses a.k.a. Sunny (😎, Jacob Dickey) are happy within the confines of Emojiland—which exists inside your smartphone, and everyone else’s! Ruled by Princess (👸, Lesli Margherita), the emojis live in harmony, anxiously awaiting their new update to Version 5.0. Many new emojis are added in this update, including the endearing Nerd Face (🤓, George Abud) and energetic Prince (🤴, Josh Lamon). Chaos ensues when Skull (💀, Lucas Steele) enlists Nerd Face to unknowingly delete all of Emojiland permanently. Intertwined with many subplots, sixteen songs, and a lot of lasers, this 2.5-hour musical comes across as reaching too broadly to tackle heavy-handed topics, rather than to just lean into its charming demeanor.
The across-the-board tight, campy performances are brought to life by director Thomas Caruso—Lesli Margherita leans into her brilliant comedic timing and big voice, Josh Lamon exemplifies the flamboyance that audiences come to expect when royal characters are skewered on stage, and Natalie Weiss and Felicia Boswell stun as Construction Worker (👷♀️) and Police Officer (👮♀️), in supporting roles that showcase their vocal prowess while remaining slightly underdeveloped. Ultimately, members of this ensemble leaned into the stereotypes of their characters, while still maintaining an individuality and distinct personality.
Set entirely on white blocks, the staging came to life with dynamic lighting and projections, as well as action on multiple levels. Ultimately, the musical overall was weakened by its too-wide scope that tried to cram one too many subplots into this 200-seat theatre. That said, the dedicated cast elicits the best of the material, and the audience is clearly there for it - a dedicated fanbase had very clearly already started to sprout. Ultimately, although problematic in some ways, an original musical these days is hard to come by, and we applaud the cast and company for their originality and commitment to the flawed, yet still greatly enjoyable, material.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars
"Emojiland The Musical" is playing at Duke on 42nd Street thru March 19. Get tickets at https://www.emojiland.com/
Reviewed for Theatre Talk Boston by Alan Koolik and Corey Steinfast