Saturday, August 07, 2004

tick, tick...Boom! (Cain Park)

‘‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ ’ is tick, tick terrific at Cain Park

In the history of theatre, specific productions are responsible for defining
a historical period of time or introducing a new movement into the art form. The musical ‘OKLAHOMA’ introduced the public to a new form of musical theatre. It was story based and all parts of the production were integrated into a seamless flow. ‘HAIR,’ was Broadway’s first successful rock musical aimed at unsettling the uptight community of musical theatre. It allowed middle-class audiences to watch America’s revolutionary sixties complete with hippies, flower children, nudity and drugs. ‘RENT’ was the seminal musical of the 90’s, mirroring the AIDS epidemic, the “I” generation and ear-piecing music.

The intriguing aspect of ‘RENT’ was that Jonathan Larson, it’s conceiver, after many years of struggling to “make it,” never saw a dream accomplished. Larson died just before the first preview of ‘RENT,” making the show his first and only hit.

Following Larson’s death, friends and other theatre people tried to conceive a way to continue his legend. Larson had several other scripts he had been working on, including ‘30/90’ a one-man show that he had performed to make financial ends meet and showcase his talent. They convinced David Auburn, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for the play ‘PROOF’ to take on the project. Auburn took Larson’s musical monologue and turned it into a play for three actors. He added a song from Larson’s never produced ‘SUPERBIA,’ and developed a musical now entitled, ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’

The show tells the story of a young composer on the brink of turning 30 and falling into oblivion. His girlfriend wants to get married; his best friend is gainfully employed, and our hero is waiting tables trying to write the great American musical. Should the young writer continue his dreams or take an escape route? As we all now know, the young writer named Jonathan (obviously, Larson) did not give up, but kept plugging along and went on to posthumous fame.

It is ironic that a from ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ was a prophecy of what was to come. Jonathan shouts, “I can’t do it. I’ll explode.” And explode he did, from an aortic aneurysm. Larson died at age 35.

Those who didn’t like ‘RENT’ because of the ear-piercing music, which caused problems in understanding song lyrics, and that it was difficult to feel empathy for people who seemed destined to self-destruct in their quest for doing their own thing, will find ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ to be a different experience. Mixed in with the heavy rock sound are some beautiful ballads and even a twangy country-like piece. The characters are much more accessible and real.

Cain Park’s production of ‘tick, tick...BOOM!,’ under the adept direction of Victoria Bussert is excellent. All three of the actors can sing and act with great proficiency. The music, except in a few numbers where musical director Nancy Gantose-Maier cranks up the sound and forgets that the audience needs to hear the lyrics, is excellent. Jeff Herrmann’s multi-level set design works well and Cassandra Goldbach’s lighting sets the proper moods.

Bussert, Cain Park’s Theatre Artistic Director, has a knack for finding small shows that fit perfectly into the Alma Theatre venue. Once she locates them, she latches on and produces wonders. Think ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ ‘AVENUE X’ and ‘SIDE SHOW.’

Patrick Janson makes Jonathan a real person with whom we can empathize. He has a powerful singing voice and uses it effectively to interpret song lyrics.

Emily Krieger lights up the stage as Jonathan’s girl friend. Her voice is strong and her acting abilities are excellent.

Fabio Polanco, as Jonathan’s life-long friend, conveys a clear characterization and sings well.

Highlight numbers included “Johnny Can’t Decide,” a philosophical ballad; “Therapy,” a clever take-off on pop psychology; “Sugar,” an audience favorite about the need for sugar highs including sneaking Twinkies; “Come to Your Senses,” a pretty ballad that gets a wonderful rendition by Krieger; and “Why,” beautifully sung by Janson.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cain Park’s ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’ is a wonderful evening of musical theatre. Combining excellent music, a palatable story, and high level production qualities, it is one of the area’s summer highlights. Go see ‘tick, tick...BOOM!’