BWW Interviews: Joe Iconis and THE BLACK SUITS - After Barrington a Future Off-Broadway Musical?
Interview by Stephen Hanks
During a career that is still in its relative infancy, Joe Iconis (who will be just 31 this month) has written the scores for six musicals, the book and lyrics for three of them and co-wrote the book and lyrics on the other three. He got the idea for his first musical, The Black Suits, in 2003 while a senior at NYU and two years later, as a grad student in the NYU musical theater program, he and fellow student Robert Maddock co-wrote The Black Suits as their second year thesis project. By 2008, working with director John Simpkins, the musical was given a reading at New York’s Summer Play Festival.
Since the SPF reading, Iconis never stopped working on the show, a high-energy rock musical about a high school garage band on suburban Long Island trying to win the “St. Anne’s Battle of the Bands.” The engaging book and the solid score is filled with parables about teenage angst and longing, the struggle with friends and romantic attachments, and dealing with the inevitability of adulthood, all infused with the transformative coolness of rock and roll music. One song, “Blue Hair,” has for years been a YouTube sensation, and there are a number of wonderful tunes (including “Lisa” and “Band Aids and Cigarettes”) that have become fan favorites at Joe Iconis and the Family concerts, and display Iconis’ knack for combining pop, rock, and Broadway influences all in one score or even in individual songs.
In its most recent incarnation, The Black Suits has had a very well-received two-plus week run (which ends on September 2) at the Barrington Stage Theater in Pittsfield, MA. The talented cast includes musical theater veteran Annie Golden (Xanadu/The Full Monty) and five energetic young actors, including Ben Platt, Harrison Chad, Will Roland, Jason Hite and Sarah Cetrulo (the latter two in photo next page). BroadwayWorld.comcolumnist Stephen Hanks recently caught up with Iconis to learn more about the history of The Black Suits and to find out what the future may hold for a show with serious Off-Broadway potential.
BroadwayWorld: As someone who was gravitating towards writing musicals while still an undergrad at NYU, you must have had many ideas for shows. Where did The Black Suits come from?
Joe Iconis: I was acting as musical director for a production of The Wiz at my old high school [which was directed by his brother]. It was the first time in a while that I’d been around high school kids or in a “band setting.” I was struck by the similarities between being in a high school band and working on a piece of theater. In theater, while you’re in rehearsal you spend every day with a small group of people. You’re all focused towards a common goal and you’re all on the same schedule. Then, the show opens and everyone goes away. It’s the same as with a high school garage band—you spend all your time with this group of kids, but everybody knows that when the summer is over, everyone is going to go off and do their own thing. It’s that bittersweet, fragile feeling that infects the show and was the inspiration to write it in the first place.
BroadwayWorld: Is the story based on any personal experiences, fantasies, relationships with friends?
Joe Iconis: I was never in a garage band but I have felt all of the things that the characters feel in the show. Many of the things the characters are going through are things that I’m going through now. Sometimes people ask me which of the guys is most similar to me. The answer is that all of them are based on me; as are the two women in the show.