Two Player Game Comes Back to 54 Below

 

 

Joe Iconis, George Salazar

 

 

by Sheila Watko

 

Even before Joe Iconis (Larson Award winner; Drama Desk nominee; creator of Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter, The Black Suits) and George Salazar (Drama Desk nominee; Be More Chill, Lightning Thief, Tick, Tick…BOOM!) take the stage in their duo cabaret concert “Two-Player Game,” the anticipation in the room is palpable. Excited chatter can be heard from every table as adults and teenagers alike await the appearance of the self-proclaimed best friends. When Iconis plays the first few notes of “Broadway, Here I Come,” which he wrote for NBC’s musical drama “Smash,” the crowd breaks into wild cheers before settling down to take in Salazar’s soaring vocals. From this optimistic opening number, it is clear that the pair on stage are a force to be reckoned with.

Following a sold-out run at Feinstein’s/54 Below last spring, “Two-Player Game” recently performed a one-night engagement in San Francisco before coming home last Friday (November 9) and playing to yet another sold-out audience. The show consists entirely of Iconis’ original material, including songs from his Broadway-bound musical Be More Chill, The Black Suits and “The Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical,” a project still in development.

 

George Salazar

 

Iconis and Salazar banter with each other, share anecdotes from working together and interact with the audience, with Salazar walking into the crowd to ask guests what they thought he and Iconis were like in high school. Iconis gives insight into the theater development world by explaining spec songs, or songs written as a way for writers to pitch themselves to head up a potential new musical. He launches into “Andy’s Song,” his own spec song written for a now-shelved idea for a Broadway adaptation of a certain Steve Carell movie about a middle-aged virgin. I would never have believed anyone who told me I’d be wishing for the chance to see “The 40-Year-Old Virgin: The Musical” . . .  until I hear Iconis’ take on the concept and watch Salazar’s performance as the titular character.

The energy between Iconis and Salazar is electric. Their friendship is genuine; they play off each other in a way that only true friends can, particularly in the concert’s namesake duet, “Two-Player Game.” Iconis bangs out his creations effortlessly on the piano while Salazar adapts to every song, giving each its own life and character. Both men play the kazoo. Salazar keeps the beat on a cajón during the gentle, heartfelt “Lisa.” I expect to be blown away by his vulnerable, captivating performance of the beloved “Michael In The Bathroom,” a song that resonates with anyone who has ever felt abandoned, outcast or excluded, and I absolutely am. The surprise standout, however, is “The Vagabond.” With Iconis on keys, Salazar takes to the drum set and croons the gritty, country-rock-tinged tune before fully rocking out at the song’s climax, complete with colored lights flashing in time to the music as he gets out of his seat to crash on the drums.

 

Joe Iconis, George Salazar

 

Iconis tells us he writes about young people because they go through experiences everyone can relate to. His ability to reach them has never been more apparent than now. Be More Chill, about a high schooler who takes a pill that makes him popular, ran for a month in 2015 at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Almost three years later, the cast recording went viral, racking up over 100 million streams around the world. The show made its sold-out, off-Broadway debut over the summer at the Pershing Square Signature Center and is headed to Broadway’s Lyceum Theater with previews beginning in February. Salazar originated the character of Michael Mell and will continue playing the role in the Broadway production.

Young people are rabid for content from this show, its cast and its creator – and that includes “Two-Player Game.” Teenagers in the audience wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with “CREEPS” in bright green letters (a trademark wardrobe choice of Salazar’s character) watch with rapt attention. One girl struggles to say her own name through excited tears when Iconis and Salazar find out it is her birthday. The teens in attendance can be seen not only mouthing the lyrics to the Be More Chill tracks, but even to “Kaboom” from “The Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical.” These kids are diehard Iconis and Salazar fans, and to see the next generation so enthusiastic about musical theater is both heartwarming and promising.

If you missed “Two-Player Game,” you have three upcoming chances to see this  incredible concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Tickets are still available for the November 29th, December 1st and December 2nd performances, but, if we can learn anything from Friday night’s show and the entire Off-Broadway run of Be More Chill, they likely won’t last long.

 

George Salazar and Joe Iconis: Two-Player Game. Next show dates: November 29 (9:30pm), December 1 (7:00pm) and December 2 (7:00pm) at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway). www.54below.com

 

Photos: Sheila Watko

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