A CurtainUp Review
tick, tick... Boom!
The words "He shows promise" are encouraging but they often lead to frustration, impatience and heartbreak. ("I've been 'promising' for so long, I'm afraid I've started to break the fucking promise.") His best friend urges him to try a completely new line of work, like marketing, His girlfriend wants him to ditch the rat race for a quiet life, but Jon is having none of that. It means selling out. He is not ready to sell out yet. Or is he?
City Center Encores!, as part of its 2014 summer Off-Center series, presented tick, tick... Boom!, a superbly funny and touching revival of Jonathan Larson's precursor to his later giant hit, Rent . While Rent was about up-and-comers in an East Village neighborhood coping in a world of drugs, AIDS, and poverty, tick, tick . . . BOOM! zeroes down to one zealous songwriter. Clinging on the cusp of acceptance, Jon, intense and wound-up, perseveres in the face of shut doors, cynicism and apathy, intent on his music and an upcoming workshop while tortured by passing time.
Not strictly autobiographical, Jon is played by Lin-Manuel Miranda ( In the Heights ) with gripping understanding and empathy. He makes ends meet as a waiter in a diner. The audience-pleasing song, "Sunday," offers a clever put-down of wealthy New Yorkers having brunch, a witty melodic nod to Jon's idol, Stephen Sondheim — a name that so intimidates him that he can only mouth it to the audience.
While Jon works in the diner, his best friend, Michael (Leslie Odom Jr. - Leap of Faith, Smash ) has traded his show biz dreams for an executive job in marketing, with perks of a posh condo and an enviable BMW. In his vibrant declaration of "No More" to all the tough times, Michael tries to persuades Jon to visit the company and give the business world a try. Jon reluctantly agrees to a visit. But, as demonstrated in a smartly presented office segment, it's obvious that he and the company world are not compatible,.
Jon's girlfriend, Susan (Karen Olivo, Tony Award winner in West Side Story, ) teaches ballet to wealthy and untalented children. She wants a calmer life away from the frustrations and disappointments of New York. (Olivo actually left the city herself to teach and write in Michigan). Both Odom and Olivo also play small secondary roles with the same sharp understanding they give Michael and Susan.
Olivo, sexy and funny, sizzles with Miranda, relishing in the "Green, Green Dress" she is wearing. In one of her other characterizations, she sings a knockout number, "Come to Your Senses," a plea to Jon, "For you I would do anything/ But you've turned off the volume/ Just when I've begun to sing."
All three perform with passion and a sense of fun, as in the potent twist they give "Sugar," a sweet ode to Twinkies. Odom's de sleek smoothness darkens when he tells Jon he is dying. Miranda delightfully interprets Larson and connects with his music, his cast-mates and also his audience. If his vocal power does not equal those of Odom and especially Olivo, he is stellar in his characterization.
Does Jon settle? His friend is dying, his girlfriend is leaving but he feels more hopeful at his birthday party. Sondheim has left him a phone message, predicting, "You're going to have a great future."
Directed by Oliver Butler, the story is set in another era but the essence of struggle, survival and choices are as timely as today. Butler keeps the production simple with a rock band backup and only a few basic props. Lighting and sound further boost the energy and Donyale Werle provides fun flickering with the lights when Jon mouths out the name, "Stephen Sondheim," as Leon Rothenberg lets the thunder roar.
tick, tick... Boom! . originally called 30/90 , began life as a solo piece and was later expanded by David Auburn ( Proof ) to include three characters. It originally opened on June 13, 2001 at the Jane Street Theatre in the West Village. City Center Encores!' production offers a bittersweet visit with Jonathan Larson who died suddenly of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm in 1996, the night before the previews of Rent.