Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: Making and Breaking an Icon

By Michael Block

What makes an icon iconic? History plays an important role in the legacy of an icon. In Sebastian Michael and Jonathan Kaldor's Icon, the mystery of a fallen princess takes center stage in this Art Deco era musical.
With book by Sebastian Michael and score by Jonathan Kaldor, Icon begins with a young man searching for the person he must share his inheritance with. When he locates the woman, he's lead down a trail of memories and truths about the iconic Princess Constance, the debutante turned royalty who's death changed a nation. Icon is an old-fashioned story reminiscent of the Golden Age that manages to have modern sensibility. The theme of celebrity is something very current that allows this sort of show to work. Icon has shining moments, many of which come through Kaldor’s score. But there are some major roadblocks that make the libretto falter. First and foremost, as brilliant as the opening number is, the musical needed to start with the memory. It establishes the entire production. With the interaction between Marcello and Miss Vine occurring after the opening, it makes the worth of the opening hollow. This is the rare occurrence where a musical can, and should, start without a musical number. Adjust some lines, let the story of Princess Constance start and then lead in with “Perfect”. Michael sets his piece as an engaging mystery. Why was Constance picked to save this country? What is the significance of Princess Constance’s death? Who is Miss Vine? The intrigue of Icon is the mystery but the moment you figure it out, which is quite quickly, the air is let out and it’s hard to care about much moving forward. If the text is going to get some re-exploring, there is some material ripe for the cutting, making Icon a single act. Though exploring the royal family a bit more is important.
Getting butts into seats is crucial. Icon stacked the show with Donna McKechnie and Tony Sheldon. And rightly so. But don’t expect to see them as frequently as you’d think. McKechnie plays Miss Vine. The character is a bit frazzled to meet this stranger under the circumstances but McKechnie finds a way to give her substance beyond teller of tales. Sheldon’s Gualtieri was an astute butler that had little to do. Perhaps if Sheldon should continue in another iteration, it may be time to amp up the character. Charlotte Maltby is elegance personified. A real-life Disney princess. The look of Taylor Swift with the stage presence and sound of Sutton Foster, Maltby has charisma and a bright future. Her Princess Constance was an icon. Opposite Maltby was Sam Simahk in as career-defining role as Alvaro. Simahk has a classical approach that fit this piece well. Even though height did play a factor, Maltby and Simahk were a strong pair.
The flapper inspired feel was alive and well in Icon. Director and choreographer Paul Stancato tried to infuse as much excitement into the production. And his staging was strong. But there were some major factors that worked against him. The pacing was excruciatingly slow and needed to be picked up. This would allow the sentimental moments to be properly earned. As mentioned earlier, the idea of starting the story through memory is important. But once the story is established, Stancato needed to keep the story present at all times. It would have been far more interesting to have Miss Vine and Marcello watch the action unfold before them. The costumes from Liene Dobraja were sensational, especially anything placed on Maltby’s Princess Constance. There was a mostly pleasant surprise with Kevan Loney’s projection design. It was unexpected but it did aid the production greatly, despite some corny images.
Icon was a completely realized production. It’s a musical that certainly has commercial appeal. Once Jonathan Kaldor and Sebastian Michael make some much needed changes, Icon will be ready for the spotlight.