I was privileged to attend a recent performance of Rent by Jonathan Larson at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Almost everyone knows Larson’s story: struggling artist from Soho, working as a waiter in a diner to make ends meet while trying to get his music, his stories, produced for the stage. Finally getting a production of his latest work off-Broadway, only to die from an aortic aneurysm the night before the first preview performance. Having that work open to acclaim, ultimately reaching Broadway and winning the Pulitzer Prize and Tony® Awards.
As wonderful and award-worthy as Rent is, Larson did write another musical based on his own struggles as a young composer in NYC. That musical is tick, tick…BOOM! and it is being presented at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. It is just as wonderful, if not more so, and it is a vibrant, exuberant production that deserves attention.
With book, music, and lyrics by Larson, tick, tick…BOOM! tells the story of Jon (Andy Mientus), a struggling artist quickly approaching his 30th birthday without having achieved recognition for his work. His best friend, Michael (Noah J. Ricketts), once an actor, is now a low level marketing executive on the rise; his girlfriend Susan (Krystina Alabardo) teaches dance while working toward a professional performing career.
After seriously contemplating giving up his artistic ambitions, Jon gets to put on a workshop production of his dystopian musical Superbia. The resultant reactions seal Jon’s future career path even as he faces personal losses.
Andy Mientus gives a superlative performance as Jon, at turns funny, frustrated, longing, romantic, maddeningly infuriating, and heartbreaking. Blessed with powerful vocal talent, Mientus easily handles the many moods of Larson’s music, from the hilarious parody “Sunday” to the song of time rushing by, “30/90”. Mientus is matched by Noah J. Ricketts and Krystina Alabardo, who are not only superb singers but also easily handle all the other male and female parts.
The show, under the direction of Eric Rosen with choreography by Paul McGill, touches all the dramatic bases while moving smartly along. Bucks County Playhouse’s design team — scenic designer Jack Magaw, lighting designer Paul Miller, sound designer Ashton Michael Corey, projection designer Stivo Arnoczy, and costume designer Devario D. Simmons — create a fluid environment that captures the spirit of New York’s bohemian scene of the late 80’s. The spirit of Larson’s music is captured by the four-piece onstage orchestra, led by keyboardist Rodney Bush, with drummer Jon Ball, bassist Ashleigh Budlong, and guitarist Jay Rosen.
It is extremely rare to have productions of Larson’s two produced musicals, Rent and tick, tick…BOOM!, being performed at the same time in our area theatres. While you should see both, if forced to choose I would recommend seeing the lesser-known earlier work being put on by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. Don’t let the clock run out before you get a chance to see tick, tick…BOOM!