Even the average Joe can fine something meaningful in Brett Ryback's premiere play "Joe Schmoe Saves the World."
Opening during Welcome Week and closing out the IU Summer Theater schedule, rap-rock musical "Joe Schmoe Saves the World" is playing at the Wells-Metz Theatre.
"Joe Schmoe Saves the World" is the story of an American and Iranian couple that takes place the evening before a major protest of the 2011 Arab Spring. The women in each couple react against conformity and risk everything to use their art in an attempt to change the world.
To Director Christian Barillas, the musical is mostly about the typical person.
"It's not about extraordinary human beings," Barillas said. "It's about ordinary young people with not a lot of resources doing their best to make change."
This is the first time "Joe Schmoe Saves the World" has been fully produced on stage in its five-year production cycle. Though the crew used stage boxes and a small set of props, it was the use of projected images of social media that demonstrated the integral role of internet communities in the Arab Spring.
The live music and rap-rock vocals are fluid and natural. In some instances, the songs have a feeling similar to spoken verse and can even take on a conversational air.
The lyrical content is just as powerful. Afarin, the Tehranian woman played by Meadow Nguy, sings, "Police brutality, it happens so much it borders on banality."
This statement of high stakes and impending protest resonates when juxtaposed against lyrics sung by the American Joe, played by Scott Van Wye.
"Joe likes to party hot," Joe sings. " Joe smokes a little pot, Joe actually smokes a lot."
Writer Brett Ryback noted Somalian rapper K'naan as an inspiration, due to the fact that his style of music is far from western.
"It's a bit of a hybrid," Barillas said. " There's a lot of pop music, the score was influenced by international rap and rock."
The story explores the functions of art through methods such as musical style and the artistic expression within the show.
"It's about how art can change the world," actor Aaron Ricciardi said. "That's the value of art, distilling the things we see in the world and making them easier to understand."
Barillas said the piece bears relevance in this very moment of human history.
"Something the piece does really effectively is it draws parallels between the characters and allows us to see how similar we are," Barillas said. "It's a wonderful thing to be exploring in the eye of the travel ban, Charlottesville and the Trump era."
Another major theme of the work was change and the different ways it can come about.
The Iranian couple deals with whether to approach change incrementally or with outright revolution. This is an especially important topic in Iran, Ricciardi said.
"You can't even listen to pop music or wear ties without risking execution," Ricciardi said. "The story is about two people trying to function in that world."
With its brand of music, singing and content, "Joe Schmoe Saves the World" holds a story and setting that reaches a part of the theater world that hadn't been fleshed out yet.
"In musical theater, this story doesn't exist yet," Barillas said. "Nothing even close to it exists."
"Joe Schmoe Saves the World" runs from Aug. 16 to 19 at the Wells-Metz Theatre.
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The IU Auditorium, the Jacobs School of Music and MidWay Music Speaks were all awarded funds.
Performances will take place on Zoom.
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