20 Questions for Joe Iconis | American Theatre
The composer talks about his early theatrical experiences and his inspirations for writing ‘The Black Suits.’
Joe Iconis has made his name as a songwriter/dramatist and bandleader in New York City with such shows as Bloodsong of Love and The Black Suits, which had a workshop production last year at Massachusetts’s Barrington Stage and will premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles, Oct. 27–Nov. 24. His upcoming works include a musical about Hunter S. Thompson for La Jolla Playhouse.
What was your first theatrical experience?
The original production of The Little Shop of Horrors, which was at the Orpheum Theatre. It was my sixth birthday. The movie had come out while the original production was still running, and I saw commercials for the production and said to my parents, “Oh, that’s that movie I like—can I go see the play?” It was the most influential moment of my young life—I was immediately hooked onto musicals. And I consider myself lucky that it was my first theatrical experience, as opposed to, say, Cats. Then I saw Anything Goes and Into the Woods right after that, so I was set.
Since The Black Suits is about a high school garage band, I feel we should also ask you about your first concert.
My first concert was Debbie Gibson at the Westbury Music Center, which has to be the least cool first concert ever. I can say pretty confidently that it has had no effect on my life.
So did you have a high school rock band yourself?
I definitely did not. I was not cool enough to even be in an uncool band. I was a good piano player, and sometimes people would ask me to play piano for a concert or something. In the writing of Black Suits, I was more inspired by working as a musical director with the pit bands for shows, and all those guys were in local bands.
Do you think of the show as a kind of backstage story?
I don’t. What I’ve been trying to do is to take the emphasis off of it being the story of kids trying to win a Battle of the Bands and have it be a story about the kids themselves. I was really influenced by Robert Altman movies; Dazed and Confused was also a big influence, where you feel like you’re peering in on some people just being themselves.