Joe Iconis has been tearing through the New York music theater scene for years, both as a writer and a performer. His concert group, Joe Iconis & Family, plays shows that feature a unique blend of rock and musical theater. One favorite family tradition of theirs is a holiday concert that is, for the first time, coming to 54 Below. Billed as a "wild yultide explosion," the fifth annual Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular will play on December 14 and 15. Below, Iconis talks influential rockers, singing with Phillip Seymor Hoffman and why Carousel gets him "hot and bothered."
What record/album was your favorite growing up?
When I was a little kid, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was my favorite. I frequently wore a lone white glove and busted sweet moves to “Billie Jean.” I was alternately obsessed with and terrified by video for “Thriller,” and would watch it constantly even though it made me cry. Other albums I loved were The Muppets Take Manhattan soundtrack and the original cast recordings of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. I had them on audiocassette and would walk around my suburban hometown listening on my Walkman and fantasizing about such exotic things as gay people and Jews.
What concert most influenced you as a performer?
I saw The White Stripes perform live many times. In an interview, Jack White said that he intentionally places obstacles in his way when he performs so that he has to fight against something. If he knows that he absolutely only has time to make it to the organ in five steps, he puts it seven steps away. That sort of tension was always evident in their performances. They never played with a set list, so everything felt alive and electric and dangerous. And their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is the best cover of any Dolly Parton song ever.
What is your go-to audition song?
I don’t audition regularly, but if I did, I would only sing “Anthem” from Chess and refuse to sing anything else. And if the person behind the table ever said, “What else do you have?” I would just sing “Anthem” in Spanish.
What song are you most excited to perform in your show?
My favorite to perform is The Pogues’ “Fairy Tale of New York,” which I traditionally sing every year with the great Molly Hager. Molly’s a brilliant singer and I scream a lot.
What song gets you in the holiday spirit?
“Santa Claus Is a Black Man” by AKIM and the Teddy Van Production Company. Funky and festive. I also love Aimee Mann and Michael Penn’s “Christmastime,” which is a gorgeous, sad song. It’s perfect if you feel like having a Very Suicidal Christmas this year.
What musical theater track is the most played on your iPod?
“I Don’t Care Much” from Cabaret, “Keys” from Passing Strange, “Tear Me Down” from Hedwig, “Who’s That Woman? (The Mirror Song)” from Follies, “Out For Blood” from Carrie (the insane original version from the soundboard bootleg, not the classy new version). Also, it’s not from a show, but there is this song called “Jethro” by an amazing musical theater writer named Michael R. Jackson that I listen to all the time on YouTube with my great friend Jason “SweetTooth” Williams singing it. It’s magnificent. Also, to clarify, Michael R. Jackson is different from the Michael Jackson I mentioned earlier. The one I mentioned earlier is the Michael Jackson who was a pop icon, and the one I’m mentioning now is the one who is alive.
If you could invite any performer onstage for a duet at 54 Below, who would it be?
I’m so very lucky to be able to work with the absolute greatest performers in the business. I’m proud and honored to be on stage with the folks who I’m going to be on stage with. Having said that, if John Goodman or Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted to join for a song, I wouldn’t kick that idea out of bed.
What musical theater performer from the past do you wish you could collaborate with?
Gah, so many. Ray Bolger, Orson Bean, Barbara Harris...I think my number one is Dorothy Loudon. She blows my mind. We are so lucky that she was born when she was born because she never would’ve made it today. Can you imagine a young Dorothy Loudon being cast in Rock of Ages?
What album was the soundtrack to your 20s?
My twenties were eventful. There were many soundtracks. Let’s put it like this:
20 – 21: The Essential Dolly Parton and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker. Wherein I fully embraced the musical storytelling that was happening outside of OCRs.
22 - 24: The Ramones Rocket To Russia, Weezer’s Pinkerton and The White Stripes’ Elephant. Wherein I realized that I liked loud, emotionally wrought music and I grew a pair of metaphorical testicles. These years were sort of like my musical puberty. I guess they were sort of like my real puberty, too. #LateBloomer.
25 – 27: The Arcade Fire’s Funeral, The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls In America, Blondie’s Parallel Lines. Wherein I stayed up late, made a ruckus, and found a family of partners-in-crime.
28 – 29: Beck’s Odelay, Aimee Mann’s The Forgotten Arm, The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun.” Wherein things and people were born, things and people died, and nostalgia never quite got the best of me.
What’s your favorite love song?
“Crying” by Roy Orbion and Joe Melson. Which also happens be my favorite song, period. I’m not sure if it’s a love song, but whatever. I can never tell the difference between love songs and break-up songs.
What song makes you feel sexy?
If I went to the University of Michigan, I’d have a great answer to this question. I mean, there are so many songs that make feel so damn sexy, it’s hard to choose just one. “The Baby Elephant Walk” and “Festival Medley” from [title of show] both really get me going. But nothing beats “A Real Nice Clam Bake” from Carousel. My girlfriend knows that as soon as I hear the Townsfolk sing the word “vittles,” I’m gonna be in the mood for love.
What is your favorite workout track?
Sorry, I’m still thinking about “A Real Nice Clambake” and feeling all hot and bothered.
What’s the best hidden gem in on your iPod?
Harry Nillson’s “Walk Right Back/Let The Good Times Roll”mash-up is a good one. The song score from The Country Bear Jamboree. Jonathan Larson singing “30/90.”
Favorite break-up song?
“Not About Love” by Fiona Apple. It make my heart beat faster every time I hear it. A devastating and ferocious song.
What song most makes you smile?
Anything sung by The Muppets. I like furry creatures that make art together.
When this song plays, I can’t help but dance:
“Death of a Ladies Man” by Leonard Cohen. I like to play it and creepily slow-dance with myself, Elphaba-style. (Hey, I almost made it through this whole thing without a single Wicked reference. Almost. #SignOfTheTimes.)