Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Tick, Tick... Boom!
New Conservatory Theatre Center

Also see Patrick's reviews of Galileo and Torch Song

Catalina Kumiski, Chris Morrell, and Marcus J. Paige
Photo by Lois Tema
"How do you know when it's time to let go?" is one of the lines Jon (Chris Morrell) sings in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of Jonathan Larson's musical Tick, Tick... Boom! It's a question that keeps popping up all through the show. Not always in those exact words, but Jon's anxiety over turning 30 and his near poverty-level life in downtown Manhattan (he is, after all, a promising-but-un-produced composer of musical theatre) has him wondering if it's time to opt for a more stable life. After all the college productions and all the workshops and all the scrabbling after grants, after all the years spent trying to create something worthwhile and of value and all it gets you is a dead-end job in a diner and an agent who won't return your calls, is it time to throw in the towel? Should he join his long-time friend and roommate Michael (Marcus J. Paige) in the corporate world, or decamp to Cape Cod to follow his girlfriend Susan (Catalina Kumiski)? Should he, then, finally give up on his dream?

It's a question virtually every artist, even successful ones, asks themselves. For the culture tells us (through the awards acceptance speeches of people who have achieved their dreams), that if you have the "passion" or the "commitment" or you "refuse to take 'no' for an answer," you will succeed. And yet, only a minuscule portion of aspiring composers (or writers or actors or musicians or painters) ultimately make a comfortable living from their art. It's no wonder Jon is in such a state of anxiety that, everywhere he goes, he hears a tick...tick...tick, and then a BOOM! Sometimes far off, sometimes closer.

Over the course of 90 minutes, in the days leading up to the first major workshop of his new musical Superbia, and his 30th birthday party, Jon processes his feelings with Michael and Susan (and several other characters the same actors portray) through a series of smooth-flowing scenes, supported by a dozen or so songs in a style similar to Larson's next work, the phenomenon Rent. If you're a Rent fan, you've probably already seen Tick, Tick... Boom! (or at least the movie version with Andrew Garfield). If not, well, Tick, Tick... Boom! might still be for you, partly because it's a lot more fun than Rent.

Fun is exactly what director Cindy Goldfield obviously had in staging this show. (At least after all the tsuris of getting the show up despite instances of force majeure–but more on that later.) It certainly shows in the joy her cast take in their roles. Despite a few moments when singers didn't quite stick the landing, and some lack of emotional depth in playing some of the more dramatic scenes, the trio on stage were mostly a delight to watch at the performance I attended. Chris Morrell plays Jon with a geeky earnestness and jittery energy that meld nicely with the role Larson created (based on himself). Morrell also has a nice flair for comedy: you have only to hear how he utters the name "Stephen Sondheim" to be charmed–and to understand even more precisely just who his his character truly is.

Morrell's scene partners relish their roles as well. Marcus J. Paige gives Michael a swagger that feels a little like an affectation, as if he hasn't quite settled into the world of struggling actor turned big-time marketing exec who can afford a BMW and the purchase of a "deluxe apartment in the sky." In the scene where Michael is showing Jon his new place, Goldfield has the pair playing with the sort of unrestrained gamboling they might have engaged in when they were childhood friends, while the pair sing "No More," an anthem to the good life, where an apartment has an actual bathroom, not a kitchen with a tub. Kumiski brings a vivacious soprano and bouncy energy to her role as a dancer who teaches "wealthy and untalented children" to makes ends meet.

Goldfield has done superb directorial work here. The staging is economical, in the best sense of that word. With just a pair of stools and an "open" sign, she creates a diner. A strand of colored lights and a cake and it's a party. She has also placed the band upstage, in nearly full view of the audience, making the night feel almost as much concert as show. Almost.

The band, led by Ben Prince, is tight and in tune, all the time. Though they are always in sight, I almost forgot they were there, so seamless was their playing that it never calls attention to itself but balances effortlessly with the performances by Morrell, Paige and Kumiski.

Tick, Tick... Boom! was a long time making its way to the Decker Theatre. It was scheduled well over a year ago, but was sidelined by COVID. It had to then be rescheduled after a record-breaking storm required a complete renovation of the Decker. Thankfully, it has now been re-rescheduled and a handful of our local aspiring artists get a moment in the spotlight.

"How do you know when it's time to let go?," Jon asks. I'll ask a different question: "How do you know it's time to ... go see Tick, Tick... Boom!? Given the charms of this production, I'd say why not now? The show has sold well, but a recent extension means more seats may be now available.

Tick, Tick... Boom! plays through June 16, 2024, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm (no performance June 12-13). Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets and information, please visit or call 415-861-8972.