Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Before "Rent" there was "Tick, Tick...Boom!" SecondStory Rep offers a great production, but hurry.

Faith Howes, Adam Minton, and Ryan Lile in Tick, Tick...Boom! (Michael Brunk)

Tick Tick … Boom!
Through November 22, 2014

In a terrific introduction to three newer-to-Seattle-stages musical theater performers, SecondStory Repertory is presenting Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom! This musical preceded Larson’s blockbuster hit, Rent, so it is a historical curiosity, and an opportunity to hear Larson’s development as a musical writer. It’s also a precursor to more “rock” musicals.

The story focuses on Jon (Adam Minton) who is turning 30 in New York City in 1990 and is despairing of actually writing the Great American Musical and is on the cusp of thinking he maybe should just give it up. It is autobiographical and references an even earlier musical that Larson wrote called Superbia that is about to be presented as a workshop production. Nascent musicals often move from workshops to developments, if producers come to and like the workshop. A lot is hanging in the balance.

Jon’s current girlfriend, Susan (Faith Howes), is a dancer who wants to settle down and have a family and, more importantly, move away. Jon’s best friend is Michael (Ryan Lile), who has already left acting for a corporate job, enjoying the money and stability. So, Jon is surrounded by people who have changed their goals, and maybe he’s supposed to as well. After all, he survives by waiting tables.
Larson originally performed Tick, Tick… Boom! as a “rock monologue” solo piece. You may know that Larson died the morning of Rent’s first Off-Broadway preview in January 1996. He never knew the show’s success. After his death, Tick, Tick … Boom! was developed into this version with three performers.

While the focus of the musical is a bit slight, starring a kind of whiny guy who thinks he’s washed up, maybe, by age 30, some of the songs are wonderful. One highlight is a hysterical parody of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George theme song called (by both of them) Sunday. Sondheim’s ode to a beautiful and hot Sunday in the park becomes Larson’s Sunday brunch in Manhattan serving spoiled and uncaring customers. Those who love Sondheim will adore this parody.

Another aspect of Tick, Tick … Boom! that is a precursor to Rent is Michael’s “sickness” which is not spoken of as AIDS, but it’s clear that is meant. Rent, of course, focused on many characters with AIDS.

SecondStory’s cast is more than up to the challenge. Helmed by director Jeff Orton, the supporting cast of Lile and Howes turn into all kinds of New York characters, from Jon’s father to his agent to corporate ad staff and an actor in his workshop. A different accent and a quick costume change are all that is necessary.

But the driving force of the evening is Minton, who has a lovely voice, a sincere presence, and clearly also plays a mean piano. He works hard to steer clear of being a whiny guy to tell a real story of conflicts and disappointments. Minton gels well with his cast, giving a solid impression of long-term relationships.

The set is rudimentary, looking like a grunge rock musical probably should, and hard-working costumes (by Carmen Olmedo) help with quick changes of character. A small band, music directed by Ben Bentler, does a good job of rocking out to the score.

Those who are young and think they have to accomplish some arbitrary goal by a certain age will appreciate this musical. Those who love musicals in general and want to experience early Jonathan Larson will appreciate this musical. Those who like good, solid productions will appreciate this musical. Hurry out to SecondStory Rep by next weekend.