nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
December 9, 2008
Nelson Drucker, the deeply nerdy center of "Nelson Rocks!"—the first act of Joe Iconis's ReWrite: a musical comedy triple feature—has a problem. It is April 23rd, 8:03 a.m. at a high school in your distant past. Class starts soon but today is the day he has decided to ask Jenny Veccarelli, the object of his longstanding affection, to the Junior Prom. He has roughly nine minutes to run through the school, find the girl, ask her the question, get his answer, and get to class.
But there are obstacles: a bully who questions his manhood and vies for Jenny's attentions, a demanding teacher who wants his homework, an unseen voice giving out weirdly inappropriate information about Nelson's body over the P.A. system, the mysterious smell of muffins, Jenny's fully developed body, his own not-fully-developed physique, asthma, his Star Trek watch, his insecurity and, above all, Time. It is immediate. Desperate. And with each passing beat, it stokes Nelson's anxieties, igniting his fears of the worst possible outcomes. Asking the question is the only way to relieve the pressure. He can't wait. He has to do it. Now.
Time plays an important role in all three acts of ReWrite. In the second act, "Miss Marzipan," time remains urgent but it hovers over the action as something that has had an effect. This act follows a middle-aged woman as she prepares dinner for a man she is hell-bent on impressing. The man, Big D, is someone from her past who is now a highly successful yet recently widowed man. The woman's life has not turned out as expected and Big D represents a chance to revisit her better self or, at the very least, make the life she is living more palatable. She races to finish her specialty, her "famous Marzipan," but the knock coming from inside the pantry makes finishing difficult. I can't tell you what the knocking is or how it got there, but I will tell you that it teaches her how to make "kicking" Eggs Benedict.
Time does somersaults in Act Three, "The Process," in which a writer named Joe sits in a Dunkin' Donuts, struggling against writer's block. The block is an issue because he has a deadline the next morning and as time passes, the voices in his head—his mother, his agent, a certain big-lipped rock star—telling him his songs are no good become stronger and more persistent. As his struggle reaches its climax, we see the damage Time has inflicted on his ability to relate to people and in a nifty turn of perspective, the way it forces him, with the help of an incredibly pushy Dunkin' Donuts employee, to confront his life through his art.
The show is very funny and very good. Iconis and director John Simpkins joyously explore the ways time shapes action and character while also using it to shed light on how we, the audience, define them. Iconis's score acts as the show's metronome, pacing the action and adding texture to enhance its vision. His lyrics are smart, funny, and referential ("You remind me of that sad lesbian daughter in Rosanne...sullen") and scattered about are seeds of silly wisdom ("What is cute in high school, isn't cute today"). And though there are moments in the show that strain the credibility scale, Iconis endows his characters with a rich emotional life and Simpkins keeps a firm grip on the dignity of the play's reality. They do all this with a light touch and a fantastic sense of play. I am not an expert on the history of the American Musical but I have to admit I have never seen a musical like this. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say Iconis is paving a way toward a possible future in this genre.
It helps that they are working with a talented cast. There is not a weak link in the ensemble. Nick Blaemire and Lauren Marcus have a blast as Nelson Drucker and Jenny Veccarelli. Lorinda Lisitza and A.J. Shively create charming and complex characters from a set of very strange circumstances. (Pardon the vagaries. You really have to see them for yourselves.) Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams sings with ease and clarity. And Badia Farha is so cool and so good as a Dunkin' Donut employee (and as an actress) that she has raised the customer service bar for that particular establishment to unattainable heights.