With a title like “Emojiland” and an aesthetic that drips with millennial energy, I admit I wasn’t expecting much from the musical, which opened at the New York Musical Festival last week (on World Emoji Day, no less). What I was greeted with was two hours of fun, catchy songs, immeasurable talent and an existential (or, should I say, “textistential”) plot that made me think way more deeply than I had planned to.
Emojiland follows the fictional titular town that exists within all of our smart phones and its people, or rather, emojis. With characters like Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes (nicknamed Smize), Nerd Face, Sunny (best known to the audience as the smiley face with sunglasses), and yes, even Pile Of Poo, the clever musical had audiences chuckling at the recognizable faces they had previously only seen on the screens of their smartphones.
We find Emojiland on the brink of a software update, 5.0, bringing in new emojis of all shapes and sizes.
The town of Emojiland is run by the Princess, played by the effortlessly genius Lesli Margherita. From the moment she steps on stage, she steals the show, singing her first number “Princess Is A Bitch.”
The first of the new emojis we meet is Nerd Face, who immediately takes a liking to Smize, but she is in a long term relationship with Sunny (“since 1.0”).
Another new emoji is Prince, played by the flamboyant scene-stealer Josh Lamon. Prince threatens the Princess’ reign at first, before the two decide to join forces, out-belting and out-dancing each other in a partnership that just makes sense.
Nerd Face links up with Skull, who talks him into using his smarts to create a virus, intended only to kill Skull himself. However, Skull smashes the potion to the ground, following the dramatic act one finale number, releasing a virus into all of Emojiland.
Meanwhile, Princess talks Construction Worker into building a firewall to keep any further updates from occurring, and thus barring new emoji from the town and securing Princess and Prince’s reign. This is against the better judgement of “CoWo” but her girlfriend “PoPo” (or Police Officer) convinces her that the Princess’ decree is law, forcing her to build the wall.
The firewall can’t save them, however, the virus has already been unleashed, causing various emoji to freeze and crash. In a heartbreaking number, CoWo is infected by the virus, and PoPo watches her disappear before her eyes, singing about how she wishes she could have “1000 more words” with the one she loves.
Nerd Face decides to be the hero and save the day, as well as get the girl he loves, Smize, who he saw having an affair with Kissy Face. What results is a truly existential scene where a phone screen is projected behind the set, showing the actual nerd face emoji traveling to the settings panel to force a factory reset. Meanwhile, Skull is trying to stop him on stage. A well-choreographed fight ensues, resulting in Nerd Face hitting the reset button and bringing back all of the emojis who were infected by the virus. And, he gets the girl.
Skull, played by Jordon Bolden, was a standout. His voice and presence commanded the stage, and he was believably the villain, giving me chills when he sang about wanting his world to end. Laura Nicole Harrison, who played Smize, had an infectious energy. She had me at her first solo number, which discusses how she’s sad on the inside but has to maintain her happy face. Too real.
Emojiland has a lot of heart. The themes it possesses are real and relatable, without taking itself too seriously. The cast oozes talent. And, the opening song, which is reprised in the finale, was stuck in my head for the duration of my train ride home, which I believe to be the mark of a good musical.