I just got back from seeing tick... tick...BOOM! put on by the Rubicon Theatre Company in LA. I'd seen it twice before (both in NYC) and it's a damn fine show. It somehow manages to put me on an emotional high at makes me slightly depressed that this and Rent are the only shows that the theater-going public will have from Jonathan Larson. That a guy so talented should leave us too soon makes me sad, but that he did leave two pearls behind brings the glad.
As I said, I saw the show twice in New York, once with Raul Esparaza as Jon (who was fabulous) and once with Joe McIntire (of New Kids on the Block fame - he was also great). I'm beginning to think that this is an actor-proof show because once again I walked out of the theater grateful for a fantastic theater-going experience. That I should feel that way after seeing a show once is lucky, twice is kind of surprising, but to feel the same way after seeing a show for the third time is shocking.
Set in 1990, tick... tick... BOOM! hearkens back to a more innocent New York (yes... really). Although Rudy Giuliani had yet to get to work on the Disneyfication of the city, Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden had not yet made themselves known to Americans. The set, designed by David Farley, touched upon the tragedy of 9/11, as the World Trade Center was front and center on the New York City skyline that took up the back wall of the stage.
The show resolves around Jonathan (Andrew Samonsky), a "promising young composer" who is days away from his 30th birthday. His life is in flux... his girlfriend (Tami Tappan Damiano), an aspiring dancer, has suggested that they leave the city and move to Cape Cod, his best friend (Wilson Cruz) is in the process of moving from their edge of SoHo walk-up to a deluxe apartment on the East Side, and the show he has been working on for the past five years has a critical workshop coming up. Jonathan doesn't know what to do. Does he give up on his dream of becoming the new sound of Broadway or does he sell out his dream for the BMW, doormanned apartment and corporate job?
Jonathan Larson wrote tick... tick... BOOM! in the years before RENT, and on some level it shows. It feels unfinished. I read that originally, he wrote it as a monologue with songs for himself, and on some levels it feels like it. While Cruz and Tappan Damiano are really great (both as their main characters and as several minor characters apiece) there's little meat to their roles. The exception to this is when they are singing. They are funny... they are hopeful... they are regretful... they are wise... goofy... and above all... they are powerful.
As the main character, Samonsky has more to work with and he perfectly captures the youthful exuberance of someone who knows what he wants to do, with the uneasiness that comes with realizing that it just might not work out.
Knowing what happened to Larson makes the whole evening a little bittersweet. But, I'm glad he wrote it, because it left me feeling hopeful. It's not to late, and as he wrote in a later show... you gotta live for today.