Jonathan Larson’s years as a starving artist (before Rent went on to become a 5,124-performance Broadway megasmash) get brought to tuneful, emotionally potent life in After Hours Theatre’s electrifying revival of Larson’s tick, tick … BOOM!
A decade before Mark, Roger, Mimi, Angel, Collins, Joanne, Maureen, and Benny and their bohemian lives made musical theater history, Larson devoted seven long years to writing Superbia, an ambitious musical that ended up going nowhere to the composer-playwright’s soul-crushing chagrin.
Rather than throw in the towel, however, Jon put his feelings about seeing his 20s coming to an end without any notable career success into the one-man show that serves as the basis for tick, tick … BOOM!, adapted as a three-performer musical by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn five years after Larson’s untimely death at thirty-six.
“The sound you are hearing is not a technical problem,” Jon (Nick Bredosky) tells us as he sits in front of his keyboard, the tick 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.”
With his 30th birthday fast approaching, Jon can’t help comparing his still unsuccessful life with that of his childhood bff Michael (Harrison Meloeny), a successful business executive with a fancy sports car and more brand name outfits than he could possibly count.
Tick, Tick…Boom! follows Jon during the days leading up to his birthday as he prepares for the Superbia workshop, flirts and quarrels with Susan, learns that Michael has worries that far exceed his own … and eventually finds the strength to persevere.
Those familiar only with Larson’s Rent will be delighted to discover the composer-lyricist’s signature sound ringing forth loud and clear in numbers like “30/90,” “Sugar,” and “Louder Than Words,” performed this weekend and next at the Hudson Backstage by a couldn’t-be-better trio of up-and-coming triple-threats under Rebecca Kenisgberg’s highly imaginative direction.
Dynamic Mississippi-to-L.A. transplant Bredosky commands the stage from the opening notes of “30-90,” winning us over with Jon’s humor, charm, and vulnerability, the stirring eleventh-hour “Why” taking him from doubt to determination, and earning Bredosky deserved audience cheers.
Baton Rouge native Regner, fresh from the second installment of the Pitch Perfect franchise, once again proves herself one of Hollywood’s hottest young talents, her Susan combining charm and sass and power pipes in equal measure. (Just wait till you hear Regner hit the rafters with “Come To Your Senses.”)
Meloeny makes for an exuberantly winning Michael, whose life challenges give the Calabasas native a chance to show off dramatic chops to match his terrific vocals. (Meloeny and Regner appear amusingly as Jon’s parents and share the cameo role of his chain-smoking agent Rosa to hilarious effect.)
Director Kenigsberg insures that each of tick, tick … BOOM!’s dozen songs tells its own story between dialog scenes, with special snaps to the delicious Sondheim-saluting “Sunday” and its collection of brunching New Yorkers.
The production’s Keith Haring-inspired set and Aja Gomez’s character-appropriate costumes are both winners, and Brittany Cobb’s lighting design is both vivid and varied (and features a nifty clock effect).
Austin Farmer (drums), Andrew Orbison (keyboard), Morgan Paros (violin), Max Wagner (guitar), and musical director Elmo Zapp (bass) provide sensational live backup, sound designer Cobb insuring that instrumentals almost never overpower amped cast vocals.
tick, tick … BOOM! is produced by Graham Wetterhahn, Kenisgsberg, and Mark Heidel. Cobb is technical director. Valerie Salas is stage manager. Rob Racke is production assistant.
With its glimpse into the life of a starving artist who went on to be a Broadway legend, tick, tick … BOOM! both elucidates and entertains. The production now playing a limited two-week run at Hollywood’s Hudson Backstage does Jonathan Larson proud.
Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
March 25, 2106