It’s nearly impossible to watch Tick, Tick… Boom!, Jonathan Larson’s 1990 autobiographical musical monologue that was posthumously adapted after his untimely death into a three-piece chamber musical (2001), without a sweeping dark cloud of what could have been if the composer/lyricist was still with us today.
Keen Company’s current revival pays reputable homage to the heart of Larson’s early work and offers audiences an opportunity to hear inklings of melodic intervals and turns of phrase cut short by a misdiagnosed aortic dissection that took his life on the morning of RENT’s first Off-Broadway preview in 1996.
Keen Company’s revival of Tick, Tick… Boom! is essentially Larson’s story, told through song and dialogue with the assistance of his best friend, Michael (George Salazar), and girlfriend, Susan (Ciara Renée), both who play an array of minor characters. But the show belongs to Nick Blaemire, who portrays Jonathan with geeky sensuality. His love for his work (both actor and composer) is infectious, and manages to fill the Acorn Theatre’s too-large proscenium.
The theatre swallows the show, in spite of Jonathan Silverstein’s swift direction. Christine O’Grady’s choreography feels unnecessarily ambitious at times, particularly in “No More,” a frenetic number that pits Michael’s upwardly mobile career choice with Jonathan’s struggling commitment to his art. But there are plentiful moments that offer a sense of Larson’s blooming talent: Michael’s “Real Life” and Jonathan’s 11 o’clock number, “Why,” in which he commits to a life dedicated to his art.
Joey Chancey’s tight musical direction showcases the actors’ strengths, which fit in the pocket of Larson’s pop-rock musical style. There are charming tributes to Sondheim and Bernstein—signs that Larson deeply respected the roots of musical theater, even if he choose to build a new kind of house.
Tick, Tick… Boom!—now more than 25 years past its original inception—is still relevant, drawing teens and millennials, some of which only know of Larson as a memory. I hope this production inspires a new generation of artists to stay true to their artistic expression, push boundaries, and create work that challenges the establishment.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
Acorn Theatre at Theater Row
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through December 18
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.