tick, tick ... BOOM!
Also see Susan's review of The Word Begins
MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, is presenting the Washington area premiere of tick, tick..BOOM!, an autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the creator of the very successful musical Rent. As a student of Broadway tradition who worked to incorporate rock into established theatrical styles, Larson likely would have become a musical theater fixture had he not died of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm at the age of 35, on the day in 1996 when Rent was scheduled to open Off-Broadway.
The earliest version of tick, tick ... BOOM! was a solo piece that Larson performed in various venues in the years before he began work on Rent. Years after Larson's death, playwright David Auburn adapted the existing material into a three-character work focusing on Jon (Stephen Gregory Smith), a self-described "promising young composer" supporting himself as a diner waiter, facing his 30th birthday in 1990 in an apartment in an industrial loft in the New York City neighborhood of SoHo. The other characters are Michael (Matt Pearson), Jon's longtime friend, who has given up an acting career for stability and money as a market researcher, and Jon's girlfriend Susan (Felicia Curry), a dancer who pays the bills as a dance teacher. Both supporting actors also play other characters, notably Curry as Jon's overly dramatic agent and a star-struck actress.
The 90-minute show, with no intermission, starts slowly with the introduction of the characters and their motivations. (The title refers to Jon's creeping sense of disaster, "the sound of one man's mounting anxiety.") It begins to pick up speed with Jon's musical narration of working the Sunday brunch rush at the diner, a pitch-perfect parody of Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, and hits its stride with several solo numbers near the end. Interestingly, Larson demonstrates here his familiarity with several genres of music beyond the expected, such as a riotous country duet.
Director Matthew Gardiner has the advantage of working with three high-quality performers. Smith manages to remain sympathetic despite the character's necessary self-absorption; Curry shines as both a powerful singer and a warm presence; and Pearson does well with the role of a man who has sold out his dreams and actually enjoys the result.
Music director Derek Bowley performs as part of a four-piece band that keeps up the pace even when the material is less than thrilling. Adam Koch's scenic design and Mark Lanks' lighting design suggest both the reality of Jon's grimy living situation and his occasional blazing moments of inspiration.