Warning: This review contains mild spoilers.
Spending two hours of my life watching emoji deal with existential crises isn’t something I ever expected to do. That almost feels fitting considering that the show’s creators, Keith and Laura Harrison, never expected they’d have the chance to stage their emoji musical off-Broadway. Emojiland runs through Sunday as part of the New York Musical Festival, and it endeavors to deal with weightier subjects than you might expect from a show in which a woman dressed as a 💩 brings the house down with a brassy, gospel-inspired number in a bathroom stall. But what is it like to actually sit through? Not bad, actually, as long as you’re walking in with an open mind.
The narrative is, as you might expect, pretty thin. All is more or less well in this microcosmic kingdom until a software update arrives — which obviously calls for a party at the Progress Bar — bringing a handful of new emoji with it.
Packed with endearing characters and scene-stealing performances, Emojiland is a charming way to kill an evening off-Broadway. Just beware of the show’s uneven pacing and scattershot character development — it’s been four years in the making, and the show still feels like it needs more focus.
The newcomers instantly give the cast a jolt of energy: The feckless, domineering Princess emoji (played with scene-stealing verve by Broadway vet Lesli Margherita) suddenly meets her match in a flamboyant Prince (Josh Lamon) who can belt just as well as she can. And Emojiland co-creator Keith Harrison soon appears as Nerd Face, the endearing, nasal pseudo-protagonist who quickly forms an emotional connection with the Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes emoji (also known as Smize) played by the show’s other co-creator, Harrison’s wife, Laura.
Given their years-long marriage, it’s little surprise that the moments the Harrisons share onstage feel so substantial. Even though the circumstances of Nerd Face and Smize’s meeting are somewhat trite, their affection embodies an earnest magnetism that’s totally absent in the bond Smize shares with her douchebag boyfriend, Sunny. (You might know him better as 😎.) It’s at this point that Emojiland reveals its true colors. Sure, you’re there to see how emoji deal with a world-ending crisis in two hours, but it revels in fleshing out the relationships that the world is built around.
Especially affecting was the easy, natural romance between the female Police Officer emoji (Angela Wildflower) and female Construction Worker emoji (Megan Kane), which provided a satisfying contrast to the show’s other love story. While Nerd Face and Smize spend the show sorting out their feelings for each other, PoPo and CoWo, as they refer to each other, have an established, caring relationship between two working women devoted to their careers and each other.
Theirs is the most mature and functional relationship in Emojiland, and the fact that the show portrays a gay, interracial love story without so much as