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By ASHLEY VAN BUREN
Since it was written in just three weeks and had only two weeks of rehearsal with a cast of around 30 people, you could argue that The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular running December 17-19 at Ars Nova, is a tiny Christmas miracle .
Iconis, who may be best known for writing last season's musical <i>Bloodsong of Love</i>, dreamed up the Spectacular three years ago while he was Ars Nova’s Composer-in-Residence. The show is bnspired by the variety-style Christmas specials he once "obsessively" watched on television, and it features Iconis and his merry troupe of musical theatre punks on a quest to learn the true meaning of Christmas, all while singing holiday classics and Iconis originals.
However, the Spectacular is more raucous than any TV special.
It features an inebriated Mr. and Mrs. Claus, naughty reindeer, and retired Rockettes, and this year, there's even a “Rock-and-Roll Christmas Angel.”
As the show continues to grow, coordinating its massive cast and crew has become a feat. "It’s a little taxing to try and work things out and plan with schedules," Iconis says. "My friend Jason 'SweetTooth' Williams, who plays Santa Claus, has the title of the MC of Merriment. He’s the person who corrals all of the schedules and asks people for rehearsal time. It sounds better if it’s coming from the MC of Merriment."
Despite the group’s best efforts, there is never a time when the entire cast and creative team is in the same room together, even when the audience is watching the show. Performers and special guests come directly to the late shows from their theatre jobs, swapping a Broadway stage for the boards at Ars Nova. Or else they head from the Spectacular to an even later gig. "It’s a little crazy," Iconis admits, "but it all kind of works out in the end.
This year, Iconis and company are facing an additional challenge. As he explains, "The show is in the Loft at Ars Nova, which isn’t a traditional performance space with a stage and proscenium, but we’re going to turn it into something new. I keep saying it’s some sort of weird rock-and-roll holiday haunted house kind of thing. I think it’s going to be a full musical production around you. It will feel like a full sensory experience."
To deal with challenges both new and old, Iconis depends on a gaggle of elves to do everything from tote amps up stairs to coordinate costumes. Some of these helpers are so behind-the-scenes that the composer himself has never met them. "People will come up to me and introduce themselves by saying, ‘I sewed the nipple tassels on the Mrs. Claus costume,'" he quips. "Everyone’s good will is through the roof with this."
Ashley Van Buren is a writer and film production freelancer. She has contributed writing to The Huffington Post, Women & Hollywood, Supernanny, The Rachael Ray Show and several other outfits. If you read quickly, you can catch her name in the credits of seven feature films. She blogs (sporadically) at thebrow.org