For the late Rent composer Jonathan Larson, the “tick, tick, boom” in his head were the sounds signaling the passage of time as he matured and yet struggled to achieve success in the theater. Although Tick, Tick… BOOM! was originally written as a highly autobiographical solo piece, it was reworked after Larson’s death and the success of Rent to include two more characters, a girlfriend and a roommate. Fans of his 1996 hit rock musical are likely to thoroughly enjoy the Keen Company production of Tick, Tick… BOOM!
The pulse of Larson can be felt throughout this production. From the moment Nick Blaemire, as Jon, a struggling composer, begins to speak about the angst of turning 30 in 1990, Larson’s signature beat spills out in the opening number, “30/90.” Blaemire brings exuberant energy to the character as he careens across the stage or leaps from a wooden construction spool used as a table. The actor is teamed with Ciara Renée, who brings a brilliant voice to his girlfriend Susan, among other roles. Susan is fed up with life in the city, scrambling between jobs and chasing theater gigs, and she wants to have a life that may not be in New York City. Susan perfectly sums up her feelings in “Come to Your Senses,” while both roar to life in the duet “Therapy,” the perfect lovers’ rumble the day before their couples’ therapy session. Renée is a delight to watch; a trained singer, she has learned to create the space between the notes to bring songs to their full construction.
George Salazar, Jon’s soon-to-be former roommate Michael, has a delicious tenor. Among other roles, he has a blast also playing Jon’s father. Jon and Michael have been friends for 20 years, meeting at Camp Schawanga in upstate New York when they were eight. Michael has also veered from theater into the lucrative world of marketing and has become quite successful. Salazar and Blaemire share the stage in the rousing “No More,” as Michael shows off his new Upper East Side apartment with all the amenities. Larson’s lyrics cleverly depict taking a shower in a New York apartment: “While your roommate’s eating breakfast and you’re getting water on his cornflakes.” Or, “Hello to shiny new parquet wood floors as waxed as a wealthy girl’s legs. Hello, dear Mr. Dishwasher.”
Later, with the addition of Renée, the three sing “Sunday,” Larson’s homage to his mentor Stephen Sondheim. It is a creative riff on Sunday in the Park with George, with the setting in a typical diner during Sunday brunch. The actors, backed by four extremely talented musicians, successfully deliver Larson’s material song after song.
Under Jonathan Silverstein’s direction, Blaemire’s talent is central to the production; however, it is Renée who owns it. Silverstein’s staging is fun—distinctly and expressively building the anxiety of turning 30 to a rich crescendo. Along with the wooden construction spool and a few chairs, a piano and sofa are secured to a platform on wheels; the actors move them around seamlessly to create the scenes. The sound is spot-on, and the lighting creative, rounding out the well-thought-out production.
The foundation of Rent can be distinguished here and there; however, Tick, Tick… BOOM! stands on its own, with a fully developed narrative and accompanying songs that flow more naturally than the average musical. It feels even more autobiographical than Rent and from a specific time period that is New York, but it never comes across as dated. Tick, Tick… BOOM! is a milestone for a sharp turn that took over Broadway in the 1990s. This revival should not be missed.
The Keen Company’s production of Tick … Tick … BOOM! plays through Dec. 18 at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd St.), between Ninth and Tenth avenues. Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $85; for more information and to purchase them, call Telecharge at (800) 447-7400 or visit keencompany.org.