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Broadway Q&A: Tony Nominee Joe Iconis of ‘Be More Chill’ and ‘Broadway Bounty Hunter’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |


Catch the Tony-nominated composer’s ‘Be More Chill’ before Aug. 11th

Joe Iconis is a prolific musical theater composer, lyricist and book writer. He was nominated for a Tony for writing the original score to Be More Chill, which plays Broadway’s Lyceum Theater through August 11th only. The show had a sold-out run Off-Broadway, and its cast album has been been streamed over 300 million times. His latest show, Broadway Bounty Hunter, is current playing Off-Broadway. He wrote the music and lyrics for the show, and co-authored the book with Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams. In the show, Annie (Annie Golden) cannot get an acting role. However, everything changes when she is offered one of the most unique parts of her career: the chance to be a real-life, Kung Fu-fighting bounty hunter. Along the way, this “woman of a certain age” shows everyone how much of a badass she really is. Joining Golden is a truly talented cast, including Alan H. Green, Brad Oscar, Emily Borromeo, Badia Farha, Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph, Christina Sajous, Emilie Battle, Ian Coulter-Buford and Anne L. Nathan. 

'Be More Chill' composer Joe Iconis on the opening night of 'Broadway Bounty Hunter' (Photo: Janie Willison)

'Be More Chill' composer Joe Iconis on the opening night of 'Broadway Bounty Hunter' (Photo: Janie Willison)

At the Tony awards, James Corden, Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles sang “James in the Bathroom,” a parody of “Michael in the Bathroom” from Be More Chill. What did you think of it?
Joe Iconis: It was completely surreal. I was so honored that I wrote a song that was well known enough to be parodied in that way. I am fans of all those people who sang the song. And I was really encouraged by people's reactions about trying to get the word out about our show.

I had no clue it was happening. I watched it unfold in real time like everyone else. As shocking as it seems to theater people, most people in the country don't follow theater religiously. They only hear about the biggest shows. While I love Be More Chill, and it's had a really nice life, it’s not the biggest show. So we need to let people know what we are. I'm so encouraged and thrilled that Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Corden and Josh Groban have been screaming from the rooftops about Be More Chill. I can't believe that I wrote something that has clearly touched so many people. It’s really incredible.

What inspired you to write Broadway Bounty Hunter? 
JI: The answer is Annie Golden. I have always loved her. I wrote this musical called The Black Suits in grad school at NYU. It was my thesis musical, and where I met Lance (Rubin) and Jason (SweetTooth Williams), my co-writers. I wrote a character in that musical and thought my dream casting would be Annie Golden. I had never met Annie Goldman at the time. But it just so happened that the casting director at NYU was friends with Annie. He said, “I can ask Annie to be in the reading if you want.” She did it. Since then, she has been my muse. I have worked with her so many times. I always felt, “How come no one has written her a classic, meaty role? She is always the sidekick or best friend who comes in and steals the show. There should be a show built for Annie.” Myself and my collaborators said, “Let’s do that.”

What do you specifically love about Annie?  
JI: I love that she has had such a wild life. She has done so many things. She’s was in the movie version of Hair, and the lead singer of The Shirts. She was in the original production of Assassins, and she is in Orange Is The New Black. She is such a real and authentic person. She's such New Yorker. I have always been obsessed with this person who has this punk rock energy. She’s such an amazing actor, and a gorgeous singer. She is a mash-up of different things, and such a compelling figure. She has so much charisma. She reminds me of the great actresses from the 1970s, like Dorothy Loudon and Elaine Stritch. People we don't really see that much anymore. I want to change that.

What was it like bringing Be More Chill to life? 
JI: It became a viral sensation, because people liked the songs in the musical. There was no entity behind it. There was nothing corporate about it. It was just songs that people dug. And because of the enthusiasm of actual human beings, we were able to do our show in New York City, Off-Broadway. And then we got to go to Broadway. And so that's the thing that I truly cannot believe. As someone who's always dreamed of having a show on Broadway, I just knew there were certain steps a show that I would write would have to take. There are certain things I thought would have to happen, like a great New York Times review and a run at a fancy New York nonprofit. 

But the fact that Be More Chill had this journey that no show has ever had to Broadway, has been the most remarkable thing. I'm just so proud that we have a show on Broadway that is there because people wanted to see it, not because it was a brand. 

What would you say if someone asked, “Why should I see Broadway Bounty Hunter?”
JI: It’s the most fun you could possibly have in a theater. The score is out-of-control exciting. The band is amazing. It’s really a celebration of people who feel different. It's a celebration of people who feel “other,” which is very similar to Be More Chill. The two shows could not be more different. But at their heart, they are the same thing. It's a story about people who feel marginalized, who are taking their story into their own hands, and kicking ass doing it.

***

For more of the best of New York theater this summer, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in August 2019.

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