“Emojiland,” an entry in the 2018 New York Musical Festival, is set inside a smart phone, with the resident emojis facing a “textistential” crisis — the phone is due for a software update. That’s in the first act. In the second act, they face a virus.
A dozen talented performers, including Broadway stalwarts Lesli Margherita and Josh Lamon portray Smiley Face 😀 and Angry Face😠 and Worried Face 😟 and Weary Face 😩 and a whole raft of icons I’ve never used before, nor knew they existed — 📻🙄💂♂️💀ℹ🤓😎👷♀️🤴👸👮♀️🤰🏽😘, including 💩 pile of poo. The result is a hilarious entertainment, mostly — though one is greatly tempted to call it two-dimensional.
The couple that wrote the book, lyrics and music for “Emojiland” also co-star in it — Keith Harrison as Nerd Face and Laura Nicole Harrison as Smiley Face, nicknamed Smize. Nerd Face is one of the new emojis, as a result of the update to the 5.0 version. He meets Smize and there’s instant rapport.
“Congratulations on being installed. Happy Update,” Smize tells Nerd Face, who prefers to be called just Nerd. Smize may be smiley on the outside, but inside, she’s depressed. And no wonder, she’s been dating Smiling Face with Sunglasses, nicknamed Sunny, since version 1.0. Sunny (portrayed by stand-out Cooper Howell) is a smooth-talking, smooth-moving hipster, who’s two-timing it with Kissy Face (Chloe Fox.) Meanwhile, Construction Worker (Megan Kane) and Police Officer (Angela Wildflower), both female emojis, are a couple. And while Princess (Margherita) bosses everybody around, Prince (Lamon) has eyes for the boy emojis.
The performers carry this show, helped by a spot-on design team. There are 16 rock songs, some catchy, some just loud, none especially memorable. The lyrics are half-funny, half-lazy, with too many forced rhymes, such as:
Princess is a bitch,
Yeah, i’ve heard it all before
I call ’em dictator haters
they come with the territor’
But who can really object when it’s Lesli Margherita putting the song over?
Similarly, Pile of Poo (Jessie Alagna) is given more than an acceptable quota of bathroom puns, but she also has the improbable show-stopping number “The Castle Restroom.”
The plot may be largely predictable, even perfunctory, with Skull as an insufficiently diabolical villain. He is unusually philosophical, though, questioning his existence as a creature made by others (hence the “textistential” label.) There are nods to political relevance: the Prince and Princess insist on the building of a (fire)wall to prevent new alien emojis arriving with future cell phone updates. Still, “Emojiland,” at two hours including intermission, could be a half hour shorter – Hell, it could be an hour shorter. But don’t we all always spend too much time on our smart phones?
Emojiland is on stage at Theatre Row through July 22, 2018, as part of the New York Musical Festival.