By Kaitlyn Riggio
BU News Service
It’s generally thought that musicals are serious works of art about serious topics, and sometimes they are. Other times, they’re about emojis.
“Emojiland” is a new musical that opened Off-Broadway on Jan. 19. Its run may have been cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, but fortunately the show is immortalized in the form of a cast album.
The opening number, “It’s Just So Great to Be Alive,” introduces the listener to the show’s sound immediately. It fits in among other pop-rock musicals that are popular today, but there’s a unique technological feeling to it as well. It feels appropriate, considering the show is about emojis.
This song also gives the listener a sense of what the show’s going to be about. There’s going to be a software update, and the emojis that make up the “Emojiland” cast are given a chance to talk about what they want from this update. “It’s Just So Great to Be Alive” does exactly what a musical’s opening number is supposed to do: it introduces the story’s key players and puts the plot in motion.
In addition to telling the story, the “Emojiland” cast album does an outstanding job of creating well-developed characters out of something as seemingly simple as emojis. This is largely due to the show’s exceptional cast. “Zeroes and Ones” is a good example of this.
“Zeroes and Ones” is performed by the Nerd Face emoji and played by George Abud, who passionately sings about binary code. Abud expertly brings this character to life. You can get a clear mental image of his character even without the help of visual cues like costume and body language that you would get onstage.
Lucas Steele, best known for his Tony Award-nominated performance as Anatole in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” is another stand-out performer. Steele plays the emotional and melodramatic Skull emoji, and he’s given his moment to shine in “Cross My Bones.”
This song offers a full display of Steele’s vocal talent. His voice has a smooth and almost crooning element to it that makes it amazing to listen to and also gives it an incredibly distinct sound. Steele also has an incredible vocal range, and this is especially apparent in the final notes of the song.
“New Crown in Town” showcases the comedic chemistry between Josh Lamon, who plays the Prince emoji, and Lesli Margherita, who plays the Princess emoji. Princess was the leader of Emojiland — until Prince was installed in the update. The song centers on the two characters as they bicker over who truly holds the power.
A character like Princess is right up Margherita’s alley. Her previous claim to fame was the flamboyant and self-centered Mrs. Wormwood in the musical adaptation of “Matilda.” Princess is incredibly similar, which gives Margherita her opportunity to shine.
It’s easy to go into “Emojiland” a little skeptical given previous examples of emoji-themed media, namely the 2017 film “The Emoji Movie.” But unlike “The Emoji Movie,” “Emojiland” is actually well done. There’s depth to it beyond “it’s a musical about emojis.”
“A Thousand More Words” is an example of that depth. It’s a gentle and heart-wrenching ballad with well-written lyrics, delivering an experience far more emotional than expected from a show called “Emojiland.”
The “Emojiland” cast album shows us that musicals can revolve around not-so-serious topics, while still carrying emotional depth and providing an enjoyable experience for the listener. And with New York’s stages shuttered for the foreseeable future, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed.