It is usually disappointing to experience a strong production and know it has only a very limited run ahead, but the seven-performance immediacy of Newline Production’s Tick, Tick…Boom! is remarkably suited to the show’s urging for life to be lived in the moment. Guiding us to this epiphany is Jonathan, show creator Jonathan Larson’s (Rent) autobiographical avatar, as he approaches his thirtieth birthday. Jonathan (Tyran Parke) hears a constant ticking as his birthday gets ever closer. His best friend Michael (Justin Smith) has given up acting and become a rich, dynamic marketing executive and his girlfriend Susan (Melle Stewart), now a dance teacher, wants to leave New York and start a family. As for Jonathan, well, he is still waiting tables and waiting for one of his shows to matter in the collective theatrical consciousness, not quite reaching higher rungs while climbing the proverbial ladder of life. And the ticks turn into explosive booms as his new show, Superbia, approaches workshop.
Parke is a delight as Jonathan, with playful self-deprecation and endearing charm from his first moment onstage that erupts with fervour into opening number 30/90. Stewart brought youth and refreshing gravity to Susan, though it was while reforming actress Karessa’s showstopper ‘Come to Your Senses’ that she truly shone as a vocal powerhouse. Smith’s Michael, Jonathan’s partner in crime and occasional antagonist, brings impeccable comedic sensibility and devastating tragedy in seemingly effortless turns, particularly in ‘No More’ and as his turns as Jonathan’s father and his agent Rosa Stevens (also played by Stewart; the three actors shift remarkably and comically into a cast of ten characters as required).
It is impossible to feel excluded from Jonathan’s life as he narrates his own story to the audience, a prototypical Mark Cohen (early glimpses of Rent’s sensibilities are here already in staging and structure), from an intimately staged set with little more than a couch, a piano, and an onstage band. We are confronted with Jonathan’s reality and he is our guide through 1990 SoHo and his surrounds, explaining his desire to write a musical with rock music that matters, a show that will speak to his generation that’s never been through a Depression, a World War, or a Vietnam — even as we detour through the horrors of his diner job (‘Brunch’) and witness his attempt to transform into a marketing whiz at a brainstorming session. It is impossible not to follow Jonathan wherever he wants to take us; he is engaging, energetic, and sincere.
Tick, Tick…BOOM! is all the more bittersweet when one considers Larson’s legacy. He did create, as he wistfully hopes for in the show, the Hair of the 90s –(RENT, Larson’s other musical) revolutionised Broadway and theatregoers worldwide in 1996 despite Larson’s tragic death the night before its first preview performance — and this brings an added poignancy to an already poignant, quietly hopeful, often joyful production. It is uplifting, raw, and unflinching. A necessary night at the theatre.