A.J. Shively, Nick Blaemire, and Lauren Marcus
in Nelson Rocks!
(© Alex Koch)
A.J. Shively, Nick Blaemire, and Lauren Marcus
in Nelson Rocks!
(© Alex Koch)
Joe Iconis writes pop music theater songs that are especially catchy and energetic. Those aren't necessarily good qualities in themselves, but they happen to be ideal for two of the three short musicals in ReWrite, a 90-minute triple play currently performing at Urban Stages. Although Iconis (who is also the bookwriter, as well as a fixture on stage as piano accompanist) has some fun with details that tie the musicals together, he's basically crafted three stand-alone pieces which add up to an uneven whole under John Simpkins' direction.

In Nelson Rocks!, the first and best of the show's three mini-musicals, Iconis' peppy pop score is perfectly suited to his cute, comic story about high school nerd Nelson (Nick Blaemire) who wants to ask Jenny, the Homecoming Queen (Lauren Marcus), to the prom but has trouble working up the nerve, especially once he knows that Ike (A.J. Shively), the jock who bullies him on a daily basis, is looking to ask her too.

As narrated by Nelson, we see the chain of key events in the school day leading up to him asking Jenny out. Then, amusingly, we watch them again but this time with differences that change the outcome: it plays like a charming miniature variation on the film Groundhog Day with teenaged characters and teenaged emotions. The restless energy of the songs is exactly right for the common high-school conflicts in the story, and the cast's three main performers deliver them with unforced charm. Blaemire is especially terrific, bringing musical comedy polish and a good deal of expressive physicality to his endearing performance.

The second entry, Miss Marzipan, features some of the show's most zippy and hummable music, but it's put in uneasy service of Iconis' strained book and doesn't comfortably fit the subject matter. The story offers an early twist when it's revealed that getting dinner on the table is not the only source of anxiety for a seemingly benign homemaker (Lorinda Lisitza): she's got the supermarket checkout boy (Shively) bound and gagged in the pantry. Soon the homemaker and her hostage are cooperating and opening up to each other, unconvincingly: the book aims beyond its reach while attempting to turn their extreme stand-off into a friendly alliance.

The tone is unsure and the two central performers struggle to put it over first as black comedy and then as sincere drama. Shively does well in underplaying it, but Lisitza is more at sea, overplaying the character's desperate hysteria to the point where the character seems irredeemably insane. The role may be impossible to play: the book looks to score laughs from the character's delusional madness and then asks us to find her vulnerable and unthreatening. Not likely after we've seen her wielding knives, denying her hostage basic bodily relief, and exhibiting behavior that defies common sense.

The show's final -- and more successful -- mini-musical, The Process, is set in a Dunkin' Donuts where a writer (James "Sweet Tooth" Williams) is racing a deadline while suffering from writers' block. The conceit -- hardly a fresh one -- is that the nagging, deflating voices in the writer's head materialize around him and threaten to keep him from his work. Additionally, there's a clerk behind the counter (Badia Farha) to serve up some tough love to the writer: she's less a believable character than a transparent device. It's a breezy and enjoyable musical nonetheless, thanks in part to Williams' aw-shucks likability and the hard-to-resist pep of Iconis' songs.