‘Punk Rock Girl’ Creators Share How They Brought this Fun-filled Musical To Life

By Kimberly Dijkstra

Long Island native Joe Iconis, known for the Broadway musical ‘Be More Chill,’ has brought the world premiere of his new show, ‘Punk Rock Girl,’ to Babylon Village’s Argyle Theatre. The jukebox musical features punk, pop, and rock favorites, a terrifically talented cast, and an outlandishly fun story about young people forming friendships and finding their identities.

The Tony-nominated composer/lyricist teamed up with two prior collaborators – fellow composer/lyricist Rob Rokicki (‘The Lightning Thief,’ ‘Monstersongs’) and director/choreographer Jennifer Werner (‘Broadway Bounty Hunter’) – to create an original piece full of surprises that will bring a smile to your face.

Named after the 1988 song “Punk Rock Girl” by the Dead Milkmen, which does make an appearance, the musical draws inspiration not only from the punk genre, but the humor of the Muppets, entertainer Charles Busch, classic musicals, and campy B-movies as well – you’ll have to see it to understand!

Iconis, a Jonathan Larson Award recipient who has built his career on original compositions, was at first reluctant to be involved in a jukebox musical.

“I, for the most part, hate jukebox musicals, and I hate them for purely selfish reasons,” he joked. “Because they’re putting me out of work, as someone who writes new musicals.”

Lively McCabe Entertainment, who commissioned the piece, persuaded him by explaining the goal was to license out the show to high schools and community theatres.

“As soon as I heard that, I started getting excited about doing some kind of reinvention of what we think of as jukebox musicals,” Iconis said. “The idea behind this was, oh, how can we have this weirdo story and populate it with music, some of which people might recognize, but much of which people will be hearing for the first time.”

In addition to well-integrated tunes by Pink, No Doubt, Joan Jett, and Blondie, with an Avril Lavigne trifecta in Act II, ‘Punk Rock Girl’ is a love letter to New York, featuring music of Pat Benatar, who grew up in Lindenhurst, and a nod to The Ramones by setting it in Forest Hills, Queens.

Notably, the playlist is made up of songs by female-fronted bands, a choice that felt natural for Iconis and Rokicki.

“I wanted to tell a story that was populated by young women; it was about them and their relationships and them actually doing something that has nothing to do with them getting boyfriends or having cat fights,” Iconis said, giving examples of tired tropes. “It should be music that was made popular by female rock ՚n rollers.”

Werner, a mother of three, was thrilled to be a part of something her kids could appreciate.

“It’s really great to see new, original music theatre, especially something that people from age 7 to 77 will enjoy,” Werner said. “It’s really thought-provoking, smart, passes the Bechdel test, and is also really fun and rocks out.”

The creative team all had an appreciation for punk music prior to beginning this project. Rokicki could write a book on the history of the punk movement, Iconis had a passion for peppy punk group Tralala and indie-rockers Sleater-Kinney, both of whose music was able to find its way organically into the show, and Werner was a legit punk rocker in high school, down to a Henry Rollins black leather jacket and partially shaved head.

However, don’t expect a punk rock musical a la ‘American Idiot’ or ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’; ‘Punk Rock Girl’ is traditional musical theatre at heart.

“For as much as on the surface it seems like this edgy, punky, in-your-face musical, it’s really a very classic Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland let’s-put-on-a-show-in-a-barn type of story,” Iconis said. “The pairing of the new and the classic is something that people will really get a kick out of and hopefully be surprised by when they come to see the show.”

Another refreshing aspect of the show is the diversity of the cast. Representation matters and Iconis has created roles for a wide variety of actors.

“Our cast is made up of people of all different shapes and sizes and types. It’s the sort of cast that I want to see in a show,” he said, and noted that people who often get cast as sidekicks are given the opportunity to carry the show. “I’m so proud when I look at all of them dancing this insane, gorgeous musical theatre choreography and singing these glorious musical theatre arrangements to weirdo punk rock songs.”

Iconis and his team were thinking ahead to when the show is licensed out to high schools, ensuring that kids who don’t often get cast will find a role in this show.

“It’s showing young people and anyone who comes to the show that musicals don’t have to look the way you think,” he said.

The characters in the show are relatable to everyone in the audience. Rokicki, through his orchestrations, gives viewers additional insight into their personalities. Proxi, the punk rocker, has a lead guitar sound; Patricia, the self-declared “math-head,” is heavy on keyboards; and Angela, the protagonist who must find her place between two friends who are opposite in every way, has a mix of the two styles, which evolve through her journey of self-discovery.

“I think a lot about motifs – character motifs, musical motifs, things that you can track that later on pay off in different and surprising ways,” Rokicki explained. He is also fond of the mashups he created, especially the one at the beginning when the motifs are introduced.

Iconis takes every opportunity to shout out his colleagues, who he calls amazing.

“Jenn Peacock, who is our music director, and AnnMarie [Buonaspina], who is on guitar – they are just incredible,” he said. “They really tear it up and it helps with that great sound you hear from the band.”

The sound quality is excellent and between the band and the strong, clear voices of the cast, ‘Punk Rock Girl’ offers an outstanding musical theatre experience. A bonus for a jukebox musical – the show includes one original song, a catchy bop called “Music and Math.”

The show is sprinkled with Easter eggs referencing the creators’ prior works, like a poster for The Rich Goranski Experience, a ‘Be More Chill’ character, and an array of fan-sourced artwork for ‘The Lightning Thief,’ plus some obscure nods only the most dedicated fans will catch.

“You know the show absolutely is about embracing who you are and embracing who other people are,” Iconis said. “There’s so much misery in this world and so much anger that people direct at each other – this show is not that. It’s the world that we want to see, the world of people just being who they are loving everyone else for being who they are.”

‘Punk Rock Girl’ runs at The Argyle Theatre through Feb. 27. For tickets to this world-premiere production, visit www.argyletheatre.com.

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