Review: 'TICK, TICK, BOOM!' at Cygnet Theatre

At Cygnet Theatre through August 4th

By: Jul. 09, 2024
Review: 'TICK, TICK, BOOM!' at Cygnet Theatre
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“Tick, Tick, Boom!” is a musical love letter to artists and the choices they have to make to pursue their dreams in the face of adversity, self-doubt, and the potential of failure. As the show often ponders, which do you choose “fear or love?”  “Tick, Tick, Boom!” plays at Cygnet Theatre through August 4th.

A semi-autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson, the show is set in 1990 and follows Jon (AJ Rafael) a struggling composer a week away from his 30th birthday, and a workshop of his new musical “Superbia.” As he works and worries over his work, how it will be received, and his future, he also hears the ticking time bomb that is life,  anxiety, ambition, and a reminder of all that he has yet to achieve as an artist.  

Review: 'TICK, TICK, BOOM!' at Cygnet Theatre

Meanwhile, his girlfriend Susan (Emma Nossal), a dancer, wants commitment and to move out of the city.  Jon’s roommate Michael (Leo Ebanks) has just moved into a place of his own, in a nicer part of town with his new BMW, having left being an actor to do market research instead.  As Jon hears the countdown clock to his 30th birthday he has to decide, what will make him happy. When you hear that ticking time bomb, do you continue to follow your dreams or do you blow up your career and start over in something new?

As Jon’s idol Stephen Sondheim once wrote “art isn’t easy."

Directed and choreographed by Katie Banville, the show has excellent energy, and fun choreography, and the trio has a good chemistry that makes their intertwined lives in a very small apartment make sense.

This one act starts with Rafael at the piano, and he plays, sings, and acts while rarely leaving the stage the entire time.  A standout moment is “Why” when Jon, struggling to process some news, finds an old rehearsal piano at the closed Delacorte Theatre.  As his internal emotional storm quells, the moment is capped by beautiful lighting by designer Joshua Heming, as the storm breaks and sunshine filters in.

Review: 'TICK, TICK, BOOM!' at Cygnet Theatre

Though Rafael’s Jon is the central character, he is supported by Nossal and Ebanks who both have the musical and comedic chops to help keep spirits up as Jon ponders his life choices.  Nossal stops the show with “Come To Your Senses” - a song from Jon’s new workshoped musical.  Ebanks is warm and charming as Michael, and the friendship and change in lifestyles with Jon are showcased nicely in their duet “No More.”   Ebanks and Nossal both have fun playing Rosa, Jon’s agent, among multiple other characters.

Rafael’s playing is excellent and melds beautifully with the live band led by Dr. Randi Rudolph on keyboards, PJ Bovee on guitar, Danny Chavarian on precision, and Christian Reeves on bass. The pop/rock music has that definite Larson sound and kernels of what will become “Rent” briefly appear in various musical moments. It is lovely to have the band on the stage interacting with the performers throughout the show.

Review: 'TICK, TICK, BOOM!' at Cygnet Theatre

The scenic design by Yi-Chien Lee creates an amalgam of multiple places at once from apartment to diner, that feels very New York but with minimal furniture so the performers can move around and make quick change entrances and exits. The sound design by Salvador Zamora was good for the music, though at times the vocals felt a bit overwhelmed by the band.

Originally, this started as a one-man monologue by Larson, and eventually evolved into a “rock monologue.”  It wasn't until after his untimely death in 1996 that the piece was edited and restructured for three people. The show like Larson and his work at this moment in his life, feels unfinished.  I suspect an individual’s goodwill towards the show may depend on how much you know of Larson’s upcoming triumphant and tragic arc of life in the short years from when this is set, but this cast proves that chasing your dreams of a life in the arts can be a beautiful thing.

How To Get Tickets

“Tick, Tick, Boom!” plays at Cygnet Theatre through August 4th. For ticket and show time information go to 

Photo Credit: Photo by Karli Cadel 


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