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‘Be More Chill’s’ Joe Iconis on why Broadway should be weirder

Joe Iconis likes his musicals to be a little weird. A little weirdness, after all, means that the audience won’t know what to expect when they come to the theater.

Joe Iconis was nominated for his score of 'Be More Chill.' (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Joe Iconis likes his musicals to be a little weird.

A little weirdness, after all, means that the audience won’t know what to expect when they come to the theater.

That idea brought Iconis to “Be More Chill,” a musical about a pill-sized supercomputer with the power to make its teenage host popular, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Score of a Musical.

Iconis spoke with Broadway News about how Broadway has impacted his upcoming projects and the honor and challenge of being the selected representative of “Be More Chill” during Tonys season.

Edited excerpts:

Broadway News: How does it feel to be nominated for a Tony Award?

Iconis: It feels like a huge honor to be the torchbearer for the entire “Be More Chill” family and to represent our show at the Tony Awards.

BN: In addition to “Be More Chill,” you have a few more projects coming out soon.

Iconis: I have so many musicals. It’s a combination of shows that I’ve been working on for a few years and shows that are just in development now, but haven’t seen the light of day. This summer, I have this musical called “Broadway Bounty Hunter” that’s going to open at the Greenwich House Theater. It’s this musical adventure that finds a musical theater actress of a certain age on a bounty hunting mission to South America to capture a drug lord named Mac Roundtree.

BN: Your typical musical.

Iconis: Typical musical. Yes, you know, I just can’t help it. I wish that I could just write a musical that’s easier to explain. I feel like every show that I write you gotta be like, “Oh there’s this Squip and a supercomputer.”

BN: What draws you to the sci-fi and the hard-to-explain musical?

Iconis: I love writing about these misfit human beings through the lens of a genre that is not normally thought of as highbrow enough for musical theater. There’s nothing particularly unique about a musical that explores anxiety and depression and bullying, but I think to do it through the lens of sci-fi and horror is something that feels different. The sort of mashup of genre and serious storytelling is something that’s done in film all the time and is not that big a deal. I want to see stuff that’s not easily classifiable [on the stage]. To me that’s exciting. That’s why we go to the theater.

BN: Why do you think all of your musical projects are able to happen now?

Iconis: I think that “Be More Chill” as a successful entity has definitely lit a fire under projects that have existed for a while. I mean, I’ve been trying to get my musicals on stages for 10 years, and I haven’t changed. I’d like to think I’m a better writer than I was 10 years ago. But what I’m trying to do, the types of shows I’m trying to do and the quality of person that I am wanting to work with has not changed. And so when I look at the next year of my life, and I have many productions lined up, which has been my dream always, I have to think that the success of “Be More Chill” has helped make producers, theaters, whoevers feel like OK this guy maybe isn’t as crazy as we thought or as noncommercial as we thought. And that’s been great.

So I want to capitalize on the goodwill that currently surrounds projects that I do. And I want to get as many shows of mine on stages before, you know, people catch on.

BN: I’m sure the Tony nomination helps now too.

Iconis: Yes. So many people have said for the rest of your life, before your name, it will be Tony nominee Joe Iconis. And it’s true, you know, I love that. But for me, I’m such a collaborative artist and all of the stuff that I do is about community and about family, and so, as honored as I am, it is strange being here by myself. It’s strange being in a room by myself talking about this show that was made by a group of artists. And so, what I want to celebrate is the community of people who made this scrappy little musical. I am here because of them.

The Tonys Spotlight series will feature interviews with members of Broadway creative teams and other nominees leading up to the ceremony on June 9.