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A CurtainUp Review
Tick, Tick...BOOM!

It's that raging mix of envy and contempt that's so...healthy. — Jon
Nick Blaemire and Ciara Renee (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Like many theater-loving people of a certain age who grew up hearing about the spectacular musicals of the past —musicals which defined a generation, from The Sound of Music to West Side Story to A Chorus Line— I desperately desired a show I could call mine, one which would speak to the concerns of my age. So when I first saw Jonathan Larson's Rent in 1996 I was utterly blown away. I thought I had finally found something authentic and real, yet timeless; its story and music combining with exceptional performances to create a musical to rival anything Broadway had ever produced.

Over the years I've changed my mind about Rent's timelessness, but there's no questioning its impact. I therefore jumped at the chance to review the Keen Company's new revival of Larson's musical Tick, Tick...BOOM!, which in its original form led Jeffrey Seller to produce Rent.

I expected a musical with interesting insights into the life and times of Larson, kind of a love letter to the 90s. And in some way Tick, Tick...BOOM! is that. But it's a lot more than that too, and has a lot more coherency and force than I had believed.

Tick, Tick...BOOM! started as a one man "rock rant" with Larson himself as the star, and many of those early roots still show. Heavily autobiographical, the plot follows Jonathan (Nick Blaemire), a young composer in New York City on the cusp of his thirtieth birthday. He's struggling with anxiety and depression while preparing for a big workshop performance of his musical Superbia. Best friend Michael (George Salazar) and girlfriend Susan (Ciara Renee) are behind him. But despite their support and his obvious talent, Jon hasn't been able to put it all together...and his anxiety, symbolized by the perpetual ticking sounds which give the show its name, continues to mount as the months and years pass.

There's nothing particularly original about the premise or the situation expressed. That it happens to be true — and that we know the eventual result for Jon, with the lines between art and life obviously blurred — doesn't change the fact that under other circumstances this would all seem a little precious. Jon's parents live in White Plains, after all; he lives in a self-imposed poverty from which he could easily emerge if he so chose. He has friends and caring people all around him, and if some of them wish he would change his career path for his own peace and mind, they're always in the front row at his workshops and performances.

Somehow, instead of all feeling too emo, the show seems warm and real. Much of this is due to its cast. Blaemire, Renee, and Salazar are all excellent in their respective roles and have wonderful chemistry, and Jonathan Silverstein is smart enough to avoid overdirecting them. Renee is particularly good, with beautiful vocal technique and several show stopping performances. But the fundamentals of the show also work beautifully; the music is strikingly good, and the story clear and engaging.

All this brings me back to Rent. I still like it, but it feels so mid-nineties and a product of its specific time and circumstances that I don't believe it has aged particularly well. It did indeed capture its generation, and ultimately was captured by it. By contrast, even though Tick, Tick...BOOM! is going for less, and is so focused on its protagonist, its intimate feel works to draw the audience members in no matter what generation they come from. It feels somehow more universal, more relevant, and often very powerful.

I expect to enjoy individual songs from Rent for a long time to come, but I don't expect to ever be blown away by it again. But if productions of Tick, Tick...BOOM! are going to be this good going forward, I can imagine myself returning to it in twenty years and finding it just as relevant then as I do now. If you're interested in stories which will stand the test of time, you should head to The Acorn to take this one in before it's gone again.

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Tick, Tick...BOOM!
Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Vocal Arrangements and Orchestrations: Stephen Oremus
Director: Jonathan Silverstein
Cast: Nick Blaemire (Jonathan), Ciara Renee (Susan), George Salazar (Michael)
Choreographer: Christine O'Grady
Music Director: Joey Chancey
Set Design: Steven Kemp
Costume Design: Jennifer Paar
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Sound Design: Julian Evans
Prop Design: Ricola Wille
Band: Joey Chancey (Music Director/Piano), Phil Coiro (Percussion), Stephen Flakus (Guitar), Corey Schutzer (Bass)
Running time: Ninety minutes
The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St., (212) 239-6200
From 10/4/2016 to 12/182016, opening 10/20/16
Tuesday-Thursday @ 7 p.m., Friday-Saturday @ 8 p.m., Saturday @ 2 p.m., Sunday @ 3 p.m.
Tickets: $85 regular, $105 premium
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on October 14th preview performance

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