By Jonathan Larson
Directed by Matt Gardiner
Produced by MetroStage
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
The drama of turning thirty-years old – there’s something about leaving the safety nest of twenty-something, twenty anything, but thirty, according to Jon is the “boom,” in the title, and not in the good sense, more like a catastrophe. Adding insult to injury is seeing the material success of his best friend, Michael who’s got the car, the house, and the fancy clothes. But Michael relinquished being an actor and got a “real job.” Choices were made. That’s what grown-ups do, make choices and live with them.
Building a musical on adolescent fantasy wishes to have it all is risky business. Jon’s interior turmoil about this rite of passage would be as unbearable to us as to him were it not for the genuinely sweet portrayal of the character by Stephen Gregory Smith, assisted by the dynamic voices and stage presence of Felicia Curry as his love interest and Matt Pearson as Mike, the best friend, and music by Jonathan Larson that rocks and melts your heart on a dime.
Also, it was a rather pleasant change to watch a guy deal with the equivalent of a screaming clock-even if more sociological than biological-the angst and underlying waves of fear, questions of self-worth, and doubt are all still very real, and Jon felt every bit of it. Another neat feature is that the story was based solidly in 1990, things seemed so simple then before the current war of the worlds, yet Larson’s penetrating lyrics relay the sense of loss and foreboding even then, with the nation just entering the Persian Gulf in the final years of Bush I. It seemed so long ago like it was another century, well, I guess it was, and the first song smacks us right there, with him turning 30 in 1990.
Plus, Larson’s music rocks. The red-hot band, music director is Derek Bowley, pulsates to the drumbeat and rocks the house at every opportunity. Larson has been said to have brought rock to Broadway with his musical Rent, which paved the way for so many others, the latest being Spring Awakening. The thrusting rhythms, the wailing guitar solos, the head banging beat-all the basic elements of the School of Rock are there, packaged in a storyline about a regular guy with soaring dreams. What’s not to love?
Director/choreographer Matthew Gardiner knows his way around a stage. The characters weave in and out around each other nonstop. That’s where Curry gets to truly strut her stuff and shake what her Mama gave her -girlfriend is Hot. Her incredible vocals are a perfect match for the music, which makes her and Stephen Gregory Smith a delightful pair.
Smith has the toughest musical role with notes that span the register in all directions and tonalities. Along with effective music renditions, he offers a picture-perfect interpretation of the character, earnest, kind of wandering, unsure and unsettled, but in relentless pursuit of his dream. All the singers get kudos for handling the songs– Larson’s score isn’t easy, with its share of offset rhythms, staccato even, with patches of Sondheim-like atonality. There are, in fact, endearing and deferential references to the great composer throughout. That some sections tip directly in Sondheim’s direction is the ultimate testament of the protégé’s respect and adoration for the notoriously inaccessible musical genius.
Filling out the trio is Matt Pearson, wonderfully cast as the friend Michael who also handles the music easily, moving with silky smooth gracefulness, especially in that gorgeous Armani looking silk suit that rachets up the sizzle factor as much as Curry’s shimmying in her “Green, Green Dress,” costume design by Sash Ludwig-Siegel. Talk about a crowd pleaser.
Amidst the fun, the back story about the creator of Rent is a real life tear-jerker in that Larson died so young, age 35, of an undiagnosed heart condition just hours before the scheduled opening of Rent-which went on to make musical history in 1996. Tick, Tick, Boom, while not a perfect musical, packs a lot of heart and creativity as an homage to an extremely talented artist whose short life is a reminder to cherish the moments of our own.
Running Time: 1:30 no intermission
Where: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal Street, Alexandria, VA
When: Thru November 25th. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 8pm; Sunday 3:00 & 7pm.
Info: call 800-494-8497 or consult the website.
To hear Joel Markowitz’ interview with the cast, click here.