Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by James Wilson - January 19, 2020

The Cast of Emojiland
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The eye-popping new musical Emojiland is set inside a smartphone, but it turns out the digital sphere of emoji, GIFs and apps isn't so different from the human world. Bullying, betrayal, jealousy and depression may be just as prevalent among digital beings, but the ever-looming threat of an apocalyptic virus makes life even more precarious for the highly emotional smileys and ideograms.

Emojiland faces sweeping social and political changes with the latest system update and the arrival of new emoji. For starters, the Princess, a fabulous diva (Lesli Margherita), will now have to share her power with a swishing, no-less fabulous Prince (a riotously bitchy Josh Lamon). Also, the romance of Smize (Laura Schein)—or as she is formally known, Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes—and Sunny (suitably oily Jacob Dickey)—also known as Smiling Face with Sunglasses—is altered with the appearance of Nerd Face (George Abud). Nerd Face is instantly smitten with Smize, but since she is in a toxic relationship with Sunny, who is also secretly seeing Kissy Face (Heather Makalani), things don't look promising.

Not even the seemingly solid relationship of the Construction Worker (Natalie Weiss) and Police Officer (Felicia Boswell) is immune to the political turmoil that occurs with the latest data changes. As calls to build a firewall as a means for keeping undesirables out of Emojiland erupt, political allegiances and moral principles are tested. Yet, the biggest threat comes from within as the sinister and deceitful Skull (Lucas Steele) exposes everyone to catastrophic malware.

Keith Harrison and Laura Schein have written the book, music and lyrics, and while Emojiland is not a perfect show, there are abundant pleasures for sure. The book, as may be evident by the thumbnail summary, is often quite smart and funny, but it is rather crowded with characters and plotlines. At nearly two and a half hours, the show could use a little pruning, or at least some cache and cookie clearing.

Musically, several of the songs are very good (although pitched a bit too loud), including "Zeroes and Ones," a duet between Nerd Face and Smize about the infinite variations of love and lovers. Police Officer's "A Thousand More Words" is a stirring power ballad, and Smize's "Sad on the Inside" could become a cabaret standard.

Lesli Margherita
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
With scenic, lighting, and projection design by David Goldstein, Jamie Roderick and Lisa Renkel, Emojiland is visually thrilling without being an assault. (The tech company Possible is also credited with projection and prop design.) The laser lighting effects, dazzling images, and vivid colors offer the sensation of entering into the world of a Candy Crush game.

Miraculously, though, the human emoji are not eclipsed by the spectacle. In fact, as directed by Thomas Caruso, the performances in particular are worth the trip to Emojiland. Margherita is stunning and hilarious, and she demonstrates her vocal prowess in "Princess Is a Bitch." The choreography (by Kenny Ingram) in this virtuosic number concludes with a jump split, and the performance rivals the best lip-synch-for-your-life moments from "RuPaul's Drag Race."

As Skull, Steele shows off his incredible vocal range, and he injects just the right amount of campy humor into his role as the villain. As the pair of lovers, Abud and Schein are adorable and provide heart to the flashing and cartoonish display around them. Similarly, Weiss and Boswell make a moving and romantic pair. In a smaller part, Max Crumm as the royal advisor, Man in Business Suit Levitating, admirably performs throughout on a hoverboard.

Ann Harada makes a brief (but memorable) appearance as the iconic Pile of Poo emoji. Unfortunately, her single song, "Pile of Poo," is not nearly as clever as the character's costume and wig design. (Vanessa Leuck designed the witty costumes and make-up, and Bobbie Zlotnik designed the ingenious hair and wigs.)

Emojiland was originally presented by the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) two years ago. Two weeks ago, NYMF announced that it has ceased operations and will no longer present new works. If there were any justice, the venerable institution would get, in the parlance of the current musical, a reboot.

Open-ended Run
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: