The EMOJILAND musical is a caffeinated pot of rainbow delight
If an off-Broadway musical about Emojis cajoles me into feeling for flat two-dimensional facial expressions on the smartphone screen that serve as emotional shorthands, then it has succeeded.
Now playing at The Duke, Emojiland is constructed of the world within your smartphone, populated by humanized emojis in cubist-saturated set (design by David Goldstein) when an iPhone screen serves as its heart. All seems chipper, but our emoji-gal Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes (a perky Laura Schein, lyricist) hides that she is blue on the inside. The emojis are excited for the system update, which means new emojis are uploaded into existence. Smiley meets newbie emoji Nerd Face (George Abud), who turns out to be a more understanding soulmate than her jocky boyfriend, another Smiling Face (Jacob Dickey). Then Nerd Face becomes unlikely pals with Skull (delightfully morose and hammy Lucas Steele), an existentially-moping Emoji disgusted by the repetitiveness of the world, and Steele and Adud have so much chemistry that despite Nerd Face being more compatible with Smiley, perhaps Nerd Face and Skull would have sparked the more interesting romance.
Meanwhile, The Princess (Lesli Margherita)and the newcomer Prince (Josh Lamon) emojis fear they could be usurped by a hypothetical new King or Queen should another update come their way. The royals decree the construction of a firewall, tightening security, and circumstances lead them to quarantine the new Emojis. Sounds familiar, America? Comparable to the kid-friendly allegorical politics of the Spongebob Squarepants Musical, prejudice and security hysteria has consequences for Emojiland.
The music is toe-tapping but Nerd Face’s intro number “Zeros & Ones” ruminating on the components that make up the universe is one that echoes in my brain the most. Plenty of Emojiland is recognizable starting with the boy-meets-girl rom-com scenario. Smiling Face is your bubbly popular girl with hidden baggage and Nerd Face is your, well, nerd. The American allegory is quite hammered in. But from the first number “It’s So Great To Be Alive,” there’s something so jolly-natured about its cartoonish digital bubble that you want to stay, as if you’re immersed in the optimistic spirit of a Phineas and Ferb episode or wandering a kooky Pixar-Disney world. (Let’s refrain from overt comparisons to the notoriously trashed Emoji Movie animated feature film which bears nary a resemblance show or its buoyant spirit).
Directed by Thomas Caruso with choreography by Kenny Ingram, Emojiland also features Max Crumm as Man in Business Suit Levitating and he knows how to ride that segway, Dwelvan David as Guardsman, Heather Makalani as Kissy Face, Tanisha Moore as Woman Dancing, Jordan Fife Hunt as Man Dancing. Felicia Boswell and Natalie Weiss are the lovey-dovey couple Police Officer and Construction Worker. Ann Harada drops by as a “Special Guest Appearance” as Pile of Poo, and I’ll admit, perhaps she deserved a lot more than one number.
It helps that Emojiland holds its heart through the predictable and wraps up in a satisfactory ending where second chances are possible for the world and nothing is quite tied together with a neat little bow. It will benefit you to the maximum to come in well-versed in the digital lingo, and Emojiland never loses reins of its absurdly allegorical world. Hey, you want something caffeinated, goofy, and downright sincere? Emojiland is probably your pot of rainbow delight.
Emojiland is playing at The Duke through March 8.