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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

tick, tick ... BOOM!
Explodes with Life at George Street

Also see Bob's review of The Fastest Woman Alive

tick ... tick ... BOOM!
Sarah Litzsinger and Colin Hanlon
tick, tick ... BOOM!, the delightful full-length one act musical which is being presented in a newly rethought, first-rate production at the George Street Playhouse, is the work of composer/lyricist/librettist Jonathan Larson, the author of the sensational hit musical Rent. Tragically, the thirty five year old Larsen died as a result of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm the night before Rent’s first performance in January, 1996. We will never know where his remarkable talent would have led him, but thanks to the efforts of collaborators and friends, we can now see this earlier work which clearly shows him on the cusp of his great triumph.

Between 1989 and 1993, Larsen wrote and briefly performed at various Manhattan venues, several versions of “a rock monologue” under the titles of 30/90 and Boho Days. Working from five extant versions of this work, Proof author David Auburn reworked Larsen’s monologue into tick, tick ... BOOM!, a musical for three actors. However, taking credit only as script consultant, he has carefully preserved Larsen’s original materials.

Larsen’s essentially autobiographical work deals with the angst of Johnny, an aspiring theatre composer, as he prepares to turn 30 (in 1990) without yet having achieved any success. Johnny questions the sense of his hand to mouth existence in a rundown flat on the bohemian edge of New York’s soon to be gentrified SoHo district. His siblings are already on the road to career success, his best friend Michael is enjoying newly found financial success in market research, and his dancer girlfriend Susan wants to get married and leave the poverty of their life to take a job in Cape Cod.

Furthermore, the story encompasses the actual workshop of Larsen’s futuristic outer space rock musical, Superbia, which failed to yield any proposals for a production. It has been posited that Superbia was too large for small theatres and too esoteric for Broadway. In any event, one result of the failed workshop was that Larsen turned his attention to his rock monologue.

Director David Saint (George Street artistic director) was a close associate of Larsen and directed him in performances of this work way back when. With the permission of Larsen’s father, he has repositioned some of the material (i.e., the song “Why”) in order to remove friend Michael’s revelation concerning his health from being the pivotal reason for Jonathan’s decision to persevere as a composer. Given that it can never be in doubt that Johnny must pursue his dream and that this course of action is crucial to his very being, this is an excellent choice. Overall, Saint has staged a swift, clean and lively production.

Colin Hanlon makes a solid impression as Jonathan. He is strong of voice and projects the humorous sweetness and sense of determination which Jonathan requires.

Sarah Litzsinger lends excellent support performing several roles. Her principal role is that of Susan. However, her strong showpiece ballad “Come to Your Senses,” originally written for Superbia, is sung in the guise of an actress performing in its workshop. Her powerful and secure delivery is most impressive. Litzsinger is extremely funny in the delightfully caricatured role of Johnny’s agent.

Stephen Bienskie is fine in all respects in the role of Michael and in any number of smaller roles. He is especially strong in projecting Michael’s strong ties to Johnny.

Anna Louizos' attractive and playable unit set designed for ... BOOM!’s original New York production has been deployed for this production. Musical director Randy Cohen seemed a little restrained. This may have been a result of the fact that there was a little reverb in the sound system. The reverb may have contributed to the uneven audibility of the lyrics.

I was particularly taken with the rap lyric in which Johnny expresses his frustration with the hostile climate for new work created by the narrow range of staid projects favored by conservative producers. Larsen is witheringly on target here.

For the most part, tick, tick ... BOOM! is a loose, good time, fun musical. Its rock oriented score features ballads, a country-western style novelty song, a Latin dance melody, a rap song, and a Sondheim song deftly parodied. For some older theatergoers who may fear that Rent is too strong and intense for them, this gentler precursor could prove the perfect ticket for their introduction to the next generation of musicals.

tick, tick ... BOOM! has strong cross-generational appeal and is an excellent show for parents and their adolescent and young adult children to see together.

tick, tick ... BOOM! continues performances through April 11 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901- Box Office: 732-246-7717; online www.georgestplayhouse.org

tick, tick ... BOOM! book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larsen; directed by David Saint; choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Cast (in order of appearance): Colin Hanlon (Jonathan); Stephen Bienskie (Michael); Sarah Litzsinger (Susan).


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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Bob Rendell



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