Before the emergence of the late legendary composer and playwright Jonathan Larson’s iconic Rent on Broadway, there was his semi-autobiographical rock monologue Tick, Tick… Boom! that he performed on and off as a solo show for several years. In 2001, five years after his untimely death at age 35, on the eve of Rent’s Off-Broadway preview, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) revised Larson’s precursor piece into a three-performer production that Stillpointe Theatre vibrantly revives.
It’s 1990 in New York City, and Jon (impressively played by Adam Cooley) is a struggling writer/aspiring theater composer who is anxiously awaiting his 30th birthday. With mounting apprehension and unease, he is questioning his life choices and the sustainability of his dream to create a hit rock musical. These feelings are compounded by his girlfriend Susan’s (confidently portrayed by Amber Wood) desire to leave the city and start a family and his best friend Michael’s (a winning Ryan Haase, who also doubled as the set designer) financial success in the corporate world.
“The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem,” Jon tells us as he sits in front of his piano, the tick ticking of a clock echoing in the background. “It is not a musical cue. It is not a joke. It is the sound of one man’s mounting anxiety. I… am that man.”
Inventively and intimately staged with the audience on three sides, Grace Anastasiadis resourcefully directs the talented, high-energy ensemble to make use of every space, angle and prop to establish a commanding sense of engagement throughout the production. The actors, particularly Cooley and Haase, made great direct eye contact with audience members and are often just inches within reach.
In addition to the smart staging and imaginative direction, the live four-piece band (Guitarist Tanner Selby, Bassist Cody Raum and Percussionist Joe Pipkin) led by Musical Director and Pianist Stacey Antoine in an adjoining room, exceptionally elevated the show, adding a sensational rock edge to each of the varied and memorable (Wood’s show-stopping rendition of “Come to Your Senses” in particular) dozen songs performed. Larson’s forte to cleverly compose catchy lyrics is exceptionally evident in his homage to Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George in “Sunday,” which was hilariously delivered by Cooley, Wood, and Haase.
Explosively entertaining, enlivening and elucidating, Stillpointe’s Tick, Tick… Boom! packs a fast-paced glimpse into a compelling journey of personal discovery, marvelously memorializing Larson’s commitment to and love of theater.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.