BWW Reviews: TICK, TICK...BOOM! at ONSTAGE In Bedford
Like many artists before him, composer Jonathan Larson's genius wasn't fully acknowledged until after he had passed away. As any "Renthead" could tell you, Larson tragically died on the morning of the first off-Broadway preview performance of RENT, which would go on to become the mega rock hit of the 1990s. Although RENT would ultimately be the only complete work Larson left the world, he'd spent many years drafting and performing many unrealized pieces. After his death in 1996, playwright David Auburn (PROOF) got his hands on a "rock monologue" Larson had created (then called 30/90). Auburn reworked the piece into TICK, TICK...BOOM!, a three-person piece biographically documenting Larson's (portrayed through the character, Jon) struggle to create art in The Big Apple as he approached his thirties.
TICK, TICK...BOOM!, like its sister musical RENT, has gently aged into a period piece, and looks and sounds every bit the 1990s bohemian New York City show that it is. Unfortunately, because it never received the same publicity or acclaim, running for less than a year Off-Broadway, the show tends to live only in the iTunes library of the geekiest of theatre geeks. That being said, as a proud member of that club, I was thrilled to see the title appear as the opener for ONSTAGE in Bedford's 31st season!
Director Lon Barerra's passion for the material is crystal clear in his intimate interpretation of the show, and it's easy to see what he loves about it. Larson's TICK, TICK...BOOM! tunes (particularly "Why," Come To Your Senses," and "Louder Than Words") are every bit as catchy as his more famous RENT hits. In fact, it could be argued that his lyrics in these numbers tend to be more relatable and emotionally affecting than those in RENT. Alternatively, Auburn's script somewhat struggles to enhance the material, occasionally going so far as slowing down the action. Luckily, Barrera, along with ONSTAGE in Bedford scenic designer Kevin Brown, has built a production that wisely utilized a balance of abstract staging allowing the show to continue moving at a swifter pace. With the songs and scenes transitioning seamlessly, Jon's struggles are brought to life with lots of the warmth and humor.
Trey West stars as Jon, with Marcus Jauregui as Jon's roommate Michael, and Nikki Cloer playing Jon's girlfriend Susan. Each actor brings their own unique strengths to the piece, and the chemistry among the group is palpable. Mr. West is strongest during Jon's more vulnerable moments; his performance in "See Her Smile" is the finest display of his talents. Although West's voice appropriately fits the challenging score, his opening night nerves may have gotten the best of him at times: throughout the night, he consistently added a forced pushing sound to his vowels, and frequently added the letter "H" before each word he sung. Because Jon sings nearly every song, it tended to be a bit distracting.
Marcus Jauregui's tenor voice soared strong throughout the evening, particularly when he led the cast in singing "Real Life." And although microphone issues hindered Nikki Cloer's well-acted opening night performance, her strong stage presence was not affected. Cloer's hilarious cameo as Rosa, Jon's agent, was also a great highlight of the evening.
TICK, TICK...BOOM! was my first visit to ONSTAGE in Bedford, but it won't be my last. This production continues through February 28th, and their 2016 season continues with HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES, THE KITCHEN WITCHES, JEKYLL & HYDE, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, and MRS. BOB CRATCHIT'S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE. For more information on TICK, TICK...BOOM! and the rest of their 31st season, visit www.ONSTAGEinBedford.com.