The story of Jonathan Larson’s death before the first scheduled preview of the off-Broadway performance of his “Rent” has become theater history.
Many assume, incorrectly, that “Rent” was Larson’s only contribution to the lexicon of American musical theater.
Before he composed his most popular work, Larson penned several other pieces, including “tick, tick… Boom,” which is basically personally biographical as well as an homage to theater legend Stephen Sondheim. The script includes the song, “Sunday,” a tribute to Sondheim.
Larson idolized Sondheim, who professionally aided Larson by writing letters of support praising the young man’s work to various producers. Not surprising, Larson was awarded the Stephen Sondheim Award.
“tick, tick… Boom” tells the tale of an aspiring composer named Jonathan who lives in NY in the 1990s. It relates in spoken lines and songs the frustration he endures as he writes and has showcases for various musicals, with little success.
The piece was originally a solo work which Larson performed. After his death, playwright David Auburn re-wrote it as a three-actor piece. It is this work that had four performances in The Helen, one of the black box performing spaces in the Allen complex at PlayhouseSquare.
The show has fourteen pop/rock songs and ballads and ironically predicts that Jon is about to write a “hit.” show.
As the lights come up a persistent ticking sound illustrates Jon’s mounting anxiety of having nothing to show for his soon to be 30 years on earth. From that point, to the ending, when a message from Sondheim inspires Jonathan to play “Happy Birthday to me,” the small slice-of-life-show works well.
The BWU Musical Theatre program’s production was staged with two alternating casts, and an understudy cast (Andrew Nelin, Claire Soulier, Gordia Hayes). The Saturday matinee and Sunday evening productions featured Alec Irion as Jonathan, Addie Morales as Susan and Matthew Harris as Michael and will be commented on in this review. The other performances featured Charlie Ray (Jonathan), Nadina Hassan (Susan) and James T. Frazier (Michael).
The “Susan Cast” was excellent. They exhibited strong voices, great enthusiasm and consistent awareness of their roles and the mood of the piece.
Irion, a rising senior, just returned from New York, where he and his classmates, presented their talent showcases. Alec, as well as all others, received agent offers and many are or will soon be going to try to ply their craft on Broadway.
Another BWU soon-to-be-graduated senior is the very talented Matthew Harris. His portrayal of Michael, Jonathan’s life-long friend and former roommate, showed why he has already had interest from Broadway casting directors. “No More,” sung as a duet with Irion, was beautifully interpreted.
Undergrad, Nadine Hassan, who was one of the Maria’s in last year’s outstanding BWU’s production of “West Side Story,” displayed a nice stage presence in her portrayal of Susan, Jonathan’s girlfriend.
Victoria Bussert’s direction was bulls-eye on target. Musical director Beth Burrier and her band (Brent Hamker, Blake Kniola, and Jesse Penfound) rocked. Gregory Daniels’ movement/choreography rolled. And the entire production was a “dope!”
Capsule judgment: “tick, tick… Boom” gives a focused picture of Jonathan Larson, who created the seminal musical, “Rent” which carried the art form into the twenty-first century. It’s a shame that the production only ran for one weekend. It could easily have developed a cult following and run for a long, long time.