Original Cast Recording - Things To Ruin: The Songs Of Joe Iconis
2010, Ghostlight Records
Ghostlight Records continues their groundbreaking documentation of under the radar cast recordings with Things To Ruin: The Songs Of Joe Iconis. While theatrical in nature, Things To Ruin isn't so much a musical as a series of musical vignettes around the theme of human imperfection and the constant effort to be more than we are. Iconis is one of the bright young voices in musical theater; the winner of multiple awards including the 2006 Larson Award and 2007 Kleber Award. Things To Ruin brings to light the collision between life and dreams, spread out across the battlefield of scarred and damaged but essentially decent human beings. Delivered in a musical score that takes its tunefulness from 1960's rock and its ruthless beat from New York City punk, Things To Ruin is struck with such honest poise and stark human imperfection it has the potential to speak across generations. The Cast of Things To Ruin includes Nick Blaemire, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Badia Farha, Sarah Glendening, Eric William Morris, Lance Rubin and Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams.
Things To Ruin opens with "I Was Born This Morning (The Cicada Song)", an ensemble song that reflects the vitality, vanity and recklessness of youth. It's an angry, vital rocker built on a simplistic piano riff and shows its roots in shows such as Rent quite clearly. Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams goes large on the dynamic and funny "Nerd Love", taking excitement from his intended's asthma attack "nothing's quite as rad as asthma baby, it's as cool as lung disorders can be". "The War Song" cuts a political edge in a song about gaining control over your own life, an interesting juxtaposition of being in a war versus the concept of self-actualization. It's an entertaining tune that uses humor to soften the blows but goes full for the body.
"Asleep On My Arm" finds Nick Blaemire talking his way through a relationship of convenience, weighing the pros (she's his boss's daughter) and the cons (boredom, restlessness) in an immature dialogue that's expositive of the character without casting him entirely unflattering light. "The Guide To Success" is one of the highlights of the show, offering words of wisdom from the rich and powerful on how to succeed in a jaded world. The lyrics border on trite, but Iconis' performance is fittingly cold and sinister and stands out. "Head Shot" explores humanity's tendency to try to fix deep problems with superficial changes. Sarah Glendening, Katrina Rose Dideriksen and Badia Farha work this one up nicely with a delicious mix of desperation, denial and angst. "The Whiskey Song" is a rock n roll ode, but you could just easily here this song in an arrangement ala The Pogues. Perhaps the Celtic/Punk style would have been too trite, but the arrangement here almost makes the song sound like it's in disguise.
"Son Of A Gun" is an anthem for the eternal bachelor, and Eric William Morris sings it with all of the conceit and corresponding insecurity of those afraid to commit and afraid of being alone. It's a brilliant performance and one of the better character sketches on the album. "Just Means" is a classic letdown song (it's not you, it's me) that belies its own principles with hedging lyrics and an emotional unease that's compelling. The song is solidly written, but Badia Farha brings it to life in palpable and messy emotional terms. "Helen" finds Jason "Sweet Tooth" Williams and company discovering that a former pre-school girlfriend has found her way into the adult entertainment industry. It's a song where the idealistic expectations of youth run headlong into the grey-scale realities of adult life "Almost There" finds Katrina Rose Dideriksen on the verge of realizing her dreams; confidence grows even as she prepares to step across the threshold into the life she wants and she can't help but shout it out to the world. Self-actualization comes with "Never Heard Nothing", a coming of age song as adults. The show closes with a reprise of "I Was Born This Morning", an acknowledgment that we are all reborn each day based on our actions and inspirations.
Things To Ruin is an incredibly ambitious and ultimately messy experience, but that's the point. The Original Cast Recording flows about as well as life does, which is to say that sometimes it does and sometimes very poorly. Nevertheless there isn't a missed opportunity here. You don't get every detail about the characters, and you don't need them. This isn't that kind of story. Things To Ruin is a series of inter-connected vignettes about different people with different dreams that serves to illuminate that each day is a choice built on the culmination of choices previously made. Failure or success aren't capricious, but built with each waking moment and always subject to a change in direction. It's the search for this knowledge and the ultimate realization that ties Things To Ruin together. Joe Iconis is a dynamic writer, and the Cast Recording is well-cast. The show may have a limited appeal to those who have been involved in the theater community, not having the universal appeal of other shows set in the same sort of setting. Essentially, Things To Ruin is a bit too full of its own virtues, assuming a connection with a lifestyle that only those who ever performed a live in the performing arts will truly understand. But for what it is, it is an extremely successful illustration in song.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Joe Iconis at http://www.mrjoeiconis.com/ or www.myspace.com/joeiconis. Learn more about Things To Ruin: The Songs Of Joe Iconis at www.sh-k-boom.com/thingstoruin. Things To Ruin is currently available digitally through Amazon.com or iTunes. The double album will be released on CD on November 16, 2010. Pre-orders are available through Amazon.com.