The mutual respect and admiration runs deep between composer Joe Iconis and actor George Salazar. The duo, who previously worked together on Iconis’ cult musical sensation “Be More Chill,” had such a successful run as a cabaret act during a winter stint at 54 Below that they’ve now released a new album: “Two-Player Game.”
The two met after Iconis saw Salazar perform in the 2011 “Godspell” Broadway revival. In 2015, Iconis cast Salazar in a memorable supporting role as Michael in “Be More Chill,” a musical about a teenage boy who gets a technology implant in his brain to teach him how to, well, “be more chill” around his peers.
After its debut at New Jersey’s Two River Theater, the musical had a long afterlife with millions of fans discovering the clever and emotionally resonant soundtrack online all around the world. Salazar’s performance particularly received rave reviews.
“I tend to gravitate toward actors who are actors first and singers second,” Iconis said of Salazar. “I saw that he would regularly get cast as a broadly comic best friend role, so I was so excited to write him stuff that he could sink his teeth into. The thing that I love so much about him is his versatility, and then on top of that he has just such a gorgeous voice. He has all the stuff you want from a great singer.”
The new bare-bones, emotionally packed 13-track studio album features all original songs written and played on piano by Iconis, with Salazar providing the vocals (and drums in one number). Each song offers its own story, with Salazar morphing into completely different characters, including a socially awkward teen at a party, a safety-obsessed cyclist, and as the attorney and activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, a remarkable man who is probably best remembered for his friendship with Hunter S. Thompson.
Salazar appreciates the wide range of roles. “Joe writes incredible characters,” the actor gushed. “For whatever reason I’m so drawn and obsessed with the music Joe writes. It’s always challenging.”
Though the characters might come from a wide range of backgrounds, Iconis has a particular soft spot for outcasts and misfits. “I love writing songs about people who feel either way too normal to be the subject of a song, or people who feel like they don’t belong,” he explained. “They’re not strange enough to be the strange one, not cool enough to be the cool one.”
The result is a series of songs about characters who are eminently relatable, made even more so by Salazar’s charismatic, extraordinary ordinariness.
The album is currently available through Ghostlight Records. To celebrate its release the duo will be performing this Thursday at Feinstein’s/54 Below. If you miss the show, however, have no fear — they’ll be reuniting again later this summer with the Off-Broadway debut of “Be More Chill.”
George Salazar & Joe Iconis: Two-Player Game is at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., 54below.com