Actually, I need to take a minute to talk about Skull, played with sultry self-importance by Jordon Bolden. He's not necessarily the most complex character in the show -- that honor arguably belongs to Harrison's Smize, with her undercurrent of existential anguish. Still, Skull is the one that most directly grapples with the absurdity of his world, and as the embodiment of death, he occupies a singularly driven role. He's brooding, self-obsessed and ultimately over everything, including himself.
Skull's raison d'être is to not have a raison d'être at all, and in Nerd Face he sees an inquisitive soul with the insight and resourcefulness needed to help him die -- sorry, I mean "be deleted." Once Nerd Face's research yields a virus that can delete not only Skull but also everyone, however, Skull all too quickly turns the corner. Within moments, he goes from disaffected loner to engineer of emoji-nocide. That deep-rooted nihilism at times felt too heavy in a world largely characterized by humor and big personalities. I can forgive that, mostly. As nuanced as the emoji the Harrisons envisioned were, they were still bound by the archetypes of their design. Of course Skull was going to be gloomy to a fault.
In an interview prior to the show's premiere, though, the Harrisons told me Skull was meant on some level to embody the dark drives that manifest all too readily in a certain generation of angry young people, for whom a dissatisfaction with the world around them can lead to tragic consequences. Knowing that, Skull and his connection with Nerd Face needed much more time to percolate onstage, to reveal its layers and to make Skull's eventual desire to erase all life in Emojiland more meaningful than the plot-mandated twist it actually was.
The upside to this is that just about every one of the show's 12 cast members gets a moment to shine, be it in a big number or a scene-stealing deletion or a moment of pained selflessness. This egalitarianism isn't necessarily ideal though: Honing in on some of the show's more crucial relationships would've given it a more meaningful sense of focus and direction.
I don't know how harshly I can judge the Harrisons for these shortcomings: This is the first time the show has ever been fully staged like this, and as a producer later told me over a beer, the co-creators had been poking and tweaking the script basically until the moment they took the stage. Even after four years in development, Emojiland is still very much a work in progress.
That feels most apparent when Nerd Face and Skull are eventually reunited on the far side of a cataclysm. I won't spoil the climax for you, but it lands with an unsatisfying thud late in the second act and left me wondering about the point of everything I had seen before that. Then again, this is a show about emoji, and one that openly winks at its own significance -- or lack thereof. Maybe that was the whole point.
All told, Emojiland isn't the hardest-hitting musical you'll ever see, and its considerable strengths aren't evenly distributed. What it is, however, is a surprisingly fun way to spend an evening. For a show dedicated to the trials of glyphs inside a phone, I don't know that anyone could've expected more than that.